A new report from the National Education Association again ranks Idaho 51st out of all U.S. states and the District of Columbia in education spending per pupil.
The association published the report April 26. According to the report, Idaho spends $8,376 per pupil in fiscal year 2021, which is 58% of the national average of $14,360.
Luke Mayville, cofounder of Reclaim Idaho, said he was deeply disappointed but not surprised by the ranking.
“We’ve long known that Idaho is far behind other states in funding for education,” Mayville said. “Even some of the recent increases in education spending are not enough for us to catch up with neighboring states.”
Reclaim Idaho submitted nearly 97,000 signatures in support of a ballot initiative, called the Quality Education Act, that would increase education funding by $323 million The group says that is more than enough signatures to ensure the initiative will appear on the November ballot.
The association also ranked Idaho last in per-pupil spending in its previous report from 2018.
The 2022 report found Idaho’s average teacher salary of $51,817 is $27,571 less than Washington state’s; $16,748 less than Oregon’s; $8,417 less than Wyoming’s; $6,350 less than Nevada’s; $5,409 less than Utah’s and $1,316 less than Montana’s.
Overall, Idaho’s average teacher salary ranks 45th in the nation. The average starting salary of $39,842 for teachers ranks 29th nationally.
For 2020-2021, the national average salary for public school teachers was $65,293, the NEA report said.
In an April debate among Republican candidates for Superintendent of Public Instruction, incumbent Sherri Ybarra acknowledged the state was last in funding but said the state Department of Education is making strides to fix that. She said her two previous terms were focused on student achievement, which she helped raise statewide and now she’s hoping for the opportunity to address education funding.
“We also get a lot of bang for our buck in Idaho,” Ybarra said. “We are leading the nation when it comes to achievement. We are leading the nation in advanced opportunities. … Strategic investments are what we need and plans. Not necessarily more money gets you what you need.”
Idaho also ranks last in K-12 education support staff average earnings, which is $25,830. The ranking is moved to 45th in the nation when higher education support staff earnings are included, which raises the average salary to $29,085.
Mike Journee, Idaho Education Association communications director, said it is important to consider the report doesn’t include recent education investments from the Idaho Legislature. During the 2022 session, the Legislature passed a bill that increased education funding by 11%, increasing pay and health benefits for teachers and school staff.
“This report yet again demonstrates just how far behind Idaho public schools have gotten because of a lack of investment from the state,” Journee said. “Despite the advances and the successes of the past legislative session, we still have a long way to go.”
Mayville said Idaho was not the only state to use COVID-19 relief funds to increase education spending and those investments are not likely to make Idaho more competitive with neighboring states.
According to Reclaim Idaho, the Quality Education Act includes no new taxes on anyone making under $250,000 a year. The initiative restores the corporate income tax rate to 8% and adds a 4.5% income tax on amounts earned over $500,000 a year for married couples or $250,000 a year for individuals.
The additional funding will be directed toward better pay for teachers and support staff and increased support for career and technical programs, arts, music and special education.
Mayville said Reclaim Idaho is projecting Idaho to move up in education spending rankings across the board by at least two or three spots if the Quality Education Act passes but rankings would be dependent on what other states do.
“Sadly, even a very substantial increase in funding for education isn’t very likely to move us very many spots because we’ve fallen so far behind in recent decades,” Mayville said.
Reclaim Idaho is a nonpartisan organization that brought forth the Medicaid Expansion ballot initiative in 2018, which passed with 61% of the statewide vote.
Journee said the Idaho Education Association delegates voted to support the Quality Education Act during its delegate assembly on April 22 and 23.
“Many of our members have been engaged in that effort — collecting signatures and whatnot — so that is something our members are pleased with and in favor of,” Journee said.
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