Here in Idaho, we say education is our top issue — and that it’s something we need to address.

There’s good reason for us to want to address some of the issues associated with education in our state. Studies indicate that more education, in general, leads to more involved citizens, less crime and an increase in better-paying jobs.

Miranda Marquit

Miranda Marquit

Another reason many Idahoans feel the importance of education might also have to do with the graduation rate, which hovers at right around 80 percent in Idaho. But that number, while it doesn’t seem terrible, doesn’t address the fact that there’s a huge difference in graduation rates between the economically disadvantaged and those who aren’t.

At the city/suburb level, according to the State Board of Education’s Fact Book, the graduation rate for an economically disadvantaged male is right around 69.4 percent — compared to 90.6 percent for a male that doesn’t have economic disadvantages. When you consider that 46 percent of the households in Idaho Falls are considered asset-limited, income-constrained, employed it’s clear that we’ve likely got an issue on our hands.

Despite our state’s constitutional mandate to provide a uniform education, when you look at how our schools are funded and the experiences students have (just compare the facilities in District 93 to those in District 91), and it becomes obvious that we’re not doing that.

Idaho struggles in a number of ways. Idaho’s per-pupil spending remains at 50th in the nation. Part of the reason for that is that about 25 percent of total per-pupil spending in Idaho comes from local sources, including levies. Teacher pay has moved up to 41st in the nation, but it’s still more than $10,000 below the national average.

We have great teachers in Idaho who are undertaking heroic work despite all the stumbling blocks thrown in their way. The state legislature, which contains very few educators and former educators, continues to implement ideological instead of practical requirements.

In places like Idaho Falls, where the median hourly wage is $15.70 (compared to $16.47 for the rest of Idaho and $18.58 nationally), hunger is another hurdle. The Community Basket reports the dire need of many in our community, and that level of hunger can impact how children learn in school. Teachers are facing these challenges in addition to the issues that come with a general teacher shortage, unreasonable requirements from the Legislature and inadequate pay.

Adding yet another hurdle to Idaho’s education system, as some groups are trying to do right now by attempting to force changes to Idaho’s education standards, won’t help. We’ve got enough issues right now without lowering the bar.

If you’re interested in the state of education in Idaho, it’s time to really show up. A public hearing will be held at the College of Eastern Idaho in rooms 150/152 in the Health Education Building on Aug. 27 at 6 p.m. Let’s engage in education.

Miranda Marquit is the chair of the Bonneville County Democratic Party