Idaho’s rural schools could be in jeopardy

If you live in one of Idaho’s rural communities and support your local schools there are storm clouds on the horizon. You need to know of the impending threat to your schools and towns.

In small-town Idaho, activities and sports are the lifeblood of the community. On a Saturday in mid-November, Sugar-Salem’s football team traveled to Homedale for a semi-final state tournament football game, with about 500 of their faithful fans. Bands played, fans tailgated, cheerleaders pumped up the fans and the stands were packed. It was a festive atmosphere on a shimmering sunny late fall afternoon. Folks commented on how warm it was for a mid-November day. Grandparents sat in the stands cheering for grandsons. Local patrons and supporters were there to support their community’s team. Moms and dads stood by worriedly, applauding their teams and (sometimes) questioning calls of the referees. Children and teens were everywhere.

The game was hard fought. The winner would move on to play the Weiser Wolverines in the championship. In the end, Sugar-Salem triumphed.

But, as any rural Idahoan call tell you, small-town schools are much more than sports teams and mascots. They’re about strong academics in support of community priorities, often in agriculture-related courses. They’re about college-prep offerings. They’re about professional-technical courses such as welding, construction and automotive. They’re about small-town schools as the center of the community.

Contrast this with the dismal future envisioned by Wayne Hoffman and his Idaho Freedom Foundation which would love nothing better than to defund rural schools and replace them with ... well, they have no idea. We hear allusions to vouchers and tax credits, “free market” solutions design to improve “school choice.”

Contrary to what Hoffman would have you believe, vouchers and tax credits would hurt rural public schools and take rural school dollars to fund private school tuition for wealthy kids in the urban areas of Idaho. Almost three-quarters of Idaho’s private school students attend school in four counties: Ada, Canyon, Twin Falls and Bannock while 20 Idaho counties have no private schools.

There is plenty of evidence that private school vouchers would harm small, rural schools, and especially disadvantage poor students and families in those districts.

Hoffman and his cronies want to destroy Idaho public schools, rural and urban.

What do we lose if Hoffman and his followers get their way? The special sense of community in rural towns will erode. The feeling of belonging will deteriorate. Small-town charm and connection, which we appreciate in Idaho, will become scarce. School jobs will disappear.

Let your local legislators know that you value rural public schools and that you don’t want to see them torn apart to fund private school vouchers. From Council to Ririe, from Riggins to Potlatch, the time is now to protect our Idaho rural public schools.

Dr. Geoffrey Thomas

Wil Overgaard

Dr. Don Coberly

Retired Idaho superintendents

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