Local column: Idaho needs early, responsibly funded ed

Idaho‘s early education has a failing grade for good reason — students aren’t introduced to formal education early enough and educational programs aren’t equitably and responsibly funded, writes James Patten.

“Governments should implement policies that support the up-skilling and the re-skilling of the workforce, particularly in job areas that are less likely to be automated, such as positions focused on person to person interaction and the need for “guided computation” where individuals direct and oversee the operation of the technology.” (Artificial Intelligence: The Public Policy Opportunity. White Paper 2017, Intel Inc.)

For over 20 years, Education Week Research Center (www.edweek.org/rc) has been tracking indicators and grading states on school finance, overall achievement, and performance trends over time. From the 2016 and 2017 Quality Counts reports, and the Idaho - State Highlights 2016, this is a look at Idaho’s numbers: (ranking based on 50 states plus the District of Columbia)

 Preschool (3- and 4-year olds in preschool – 2014) enrollment rank – 51 (Wyoming ranks number 27)

 Kindergarten enrollment rank – 42

 Elementary Reading (4th grade public school students proficient on NAEP) rank – 27 (Wyoming ranks number 7)

 Postsecondary participation rank – 47 (young adults enrolled in postsecondary education)

 Adult educational attainment rank – 39 (adults with a two- or four-year postsecondary degree)

 Annual income rank – 48 (adults with incomes at or above the national median, Wyoming ranks number 15)

While the above success indicators are dismal, a look at the school finance numbers is truly disheartening. Much has been written regarding what some have called, “Idaho’s backwards method of funding public education.” Nationally, according to the U.S. Department of Education (nces.ed.gov/pubs2014/2014301.pdf), schools are funded on a relative equal ratio of state and local dollars. In Idaho, over 63 percent of school funding comes from the State Legislature. Local money accounts for less than 23 percent, “one of the lowest percentages in the nation.”

This current funding scheme came about with the removal of the equalized Maintenance and Operations (M&O) property tax levying authorization in 2006. Orchestrated by then-Gov. Jim Risch, a tax swap of equalized M&O property taxes were replaced by a one-cent increase in sales tax. Unfortunately, as the economy tanked in ’08 and ’09 so did K-12 funding.

This unusual school funding formula is a major factor why, when Education Week Research ranked equity and spending indicators, Idaho was the only state to be graded ‘F’. A look at those numbers and rankings:

 Relationship between district funding and local property wealth ranking – 49

 Amount of disparity in spending across districts within a state – Idaho ranks a lowly 47

 Adjusted per-pupil expenditures ranking – 48 (Wyoming ranks number 4)

 Percentage of Idaho students funded at or above national average (3.5 percent) – rank number 46 (Wyoming ranks number 1 at 100 percent)

 State expenditures on K-12 schooling as a percent of state taxable resources – Idaho 2.9 percent, Wyoming 3.8 percent (rankings 35 and 13 respectively)

Though I am loath to claim correlation, on the surface the above numbers indicate that when students are introduced to formal education early, educational programs are equitably and responsibly funded, and the schools are inculcated with a culture of effort, expectation, and achievement, students do well, as does the community and economy.

Unfortunately, Idaho has earned its failing grades.

Next: Addressing apathy before the future strikes.