Guest column: Digging out of the hole

Now is the time for citizens to let candidates for public office know they are serious about restoring education funding cut during the recession, writes David Adler.

By David Adler

The end of the school year signals the start of summer vacation for Idaho’s students, but candidates for office should not seek a hall pass from their responsibility to focus on the number one issue in the fall campaign: education. In this past legislative session, lawmakers agreed education funding represented the most important issue facing the state. It should be true of the next session as well. Legislators have made a start in restoring education funding, but digging our way out of a deep hole requires a sustained effort.

Residents of the Gem State learned this week that Idaho’s recession-era spending cuts were the steepest in the United States. Another regrettable “first” for Idaho. After adjustments for inflation, Idaho’s K-12 per pupil spending was cut by 12.3 percent from 2008-2009 to 2011-2012.

Those cuts were part of a trend, identified by an analyst at FiveThirtyEight.com, a website created by Nate Silver, whose predictions about the outcome of national political races have become the gold standard in the world of prognosticators. It turns out that states spending less money on students before the downturn - Idaho, Utah and several Southern states - engaged in bigger cuts during the recession than states funding education at higher percentages.

This disturbing trend should be the focal point of campaigns for legislative seats across the state, as well as well as the race to elect the next governor and superintendent of public instruction. Candidates should clearly explain to voters where they stand on the issue of restoring funds to education. Persistent questions from reporters at press conferences, public forums and campaign stops, will go a long way toward placing candidates’ remarks and positions on the record when the legislature convenes next year. Citizens, too, can play a key role in promoting governmental accountability through attendance at and, in many cases, participation in a statewide dialogue on matters of education through town hall meetings, campaign events and debates.

The future of education leadership in Idaho is at stake in this election. Funding levels, as well as meaningful reforms, are critical to the success of students. Candidates should engage in a robust debate on multiple education issues, including that of early childhood education, a vital component of education reform.

A failure by state officials to restore education funding and, indeed, to place Idaho’s students in a position where they can vie for jobs in an ultra-competitive world, would inflict a grave injury on our students and our economy. Education, after all, is the most important family-values issue in a state that boasts of its commitment to family values. Inadequate funding of educational programs undercuts the future of our children and stunts economic growth and opportunities.

Education is the key to unlocking a brighter future for our children. Companies will be discouraged from relocating to Idaho, no matter how attractive state tax incentives and benefits may be, if the workforce is perceived to be under-educated, under-trained and unprepared to fill the jobs that they would bring to the Gem State.

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