…the duty of the legislature of Idaho, to establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.

Idaho Constitution

Education Week

This week we spent much of our time working on education related issues. My committees relating to education and finance were particularly active.

I get questions all the time about how much we spend on education…some say too much…others say not enough.

For me, a lot of it comes down to what you want. Our Idaho students rank about average when compared to other states, on national assessments. Our spending per student is near the bottom. So, from a business perspective, we are getting a pretty good ROI (return on investment)! Not a lot per student to get average results.

However, I seldom have parents who ask me to help provide an average education for their child!

So, what can we do to improve education in Idaho?

  • First, the best indicator of a child’s success in later life is their ability to read in the third grade. Who knew?! Our Idaho students are only about 30% proficient (at grade level) by third grade! That means most of them are behind what we expect of them. We must do better here! 
  • Second, only about half of students are ready for kindergarten when they start. Families are being pushed to their emotional and financial limits. These stressful times mean kids are not ready and prepared to learn when they start school. If half of them are at a disadvantage to begin with, what are their chances for success later? But what can/should the state do about families? This gets into individual liberties and there are strong opinions on these topics.   
  • Third, with regard to our higher education, meaning colleges and universities, what is success? What would success look like if we saw it? Is it graduation rate, salary achieved at 5 years post-graduation, credits earned or some other measure of success in higher education? We need to agree on this before we make adjustments to funding that will impact student tuition and state obligations. 

Emergency Declarations

There is concern on both sides of the issue related to the Governor’s power for emergency declarations. Some believe he is a tyrant and a dictator for the things he has done during this pandemic. Some believe he has done the right thing for Idaho, protecting both businesses and lives. Believe me, there is no shortage of opinions…and strong ones! 

If you are one who wants freedom from mask requirements, freedom from social distancing requirements, freedom to gather in larger groups, etc., then removal of an emergency declaration will not get these things. 
Lawmakers apparently did not know this until recently. If we want to get these freedoms restored, we need to focus on changes to statute in the Health and Welfare code, not emergency declarations. Laws, on the books long before I came to the Senate, control the decision making authority during the last year.

There is a bill in the Senate that will limit some of the power of the Governor to do these things. It is a bill that won’t totally satisfy everyone, but it does update current law to take these types of unusual events, like a global pandemic, into account.  Sometimes that’s what happens here; everybody gets some of what they want, but nobody gets all of what they want.

Along these lines, I expect this week will be a turning point for the pandemic in Idaho. This Senate bill will probably pass and the Governor will likely remove more restrictions.

I am hopeful the legislature can get to work on something else. We have a tremendous amount of work ahead…and not much behind us!