IEA HOTLINE Podcast

Chronic Underfunding of Idaho Public Education

January 05, 2023 Mike Journee Season 1 Episode 3
Chronic Underfunding of Idaho Public Education
IEA HOTLINE Podcast
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IEA HOTLINE Podcast
Chronic Underfunding of Idaho Public Education
Jan 05, 2023 Season 1 Episode 3
Mike Journee

In this episode of IEA's HOTLINE Podcast, we discuss Idaho's decades of chronically underfunding Idaho public schools and cascading impacts it has on students, learning and public school educators. The panel discusses the Idaho Legislature's continued failure in meeting its constitutional mandate to provide an equitable public education to all Idaho students, how that failure creates uneven learning outcomes for students and how bonds and levies at the local level have taken on an outsized importance for local school districts. 

Joining the conversation for this episode are:

  • IEA member and Idaho Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, who is a member of the Senate Education Committee and member of the powerful budget-writing Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee
  • IEA President Layne McInelly
  • IEA Executive Director Paul Stark
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of IEA's HOTLINE Podcast, we discuss Idaho's decades of chronically underfunding Idaho public schools and cascading impacts it has on students, learning and public school educators. The panel discusses the Idaho Legislature's continued failure in meeting its constitutional mandate to provide an equitable public education to all Idaho students, how that failure creates uneven learning outcomes for students and how bonds and levies at the local level have taken on an outsized importance for local school districts. 

Joining the conversation for this episode are:

  • IEA member and Idaho Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, who is a member of the Senate Education Committee and member of the powerful budget-writing Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee
  • IEA President Layne McInelly
  • IEA Executive Director Paul Stark
Mike Journee:

Welcome to Idaho education Association's hotline podcast, a weekly discussion about what's happening at the Idaho legislature around public education, and the policy priorities of ies members, IEA members or public school educators from all over the state. They're Idaho's most important education experts and they use their influence to fight for free quality and equitable public education for every student in the state. I'm Mike journee, communications director at Ida and I'll be your host for this episode of hotline. Today, we discuss Idaho's decades of chronic underfunding of public schools and the cascading impacts it has on students learning, and public school educators. joining me for today's conversation are IEA, member of Idaho Senator Janie Ward-Engelking, who is a member of the Senate Education Committee, and a member of the powerful budget writing Joint Finance and appropriations committee. IEA President Elaine McAnally and IEA executive director Paul Stark. So thank you all for joining me for this next episode of the hotline podcast. And today we're going to be talking about education funding. And we have the we have a an esteemed group of folks here education experts who pay who do a lot at the Idaho legislature. And thank you, Senator ordering looking for joining us today. And we appreciate your time. And I wanted to kind of start this off by by talking a little bit about it seems like going into this session, the dynamics around education and education funding, in particular, are different than in previous years, there seems to be a lot of jockeying for position on some issues that we have might not have seen previously. And I'd be curious to know if you feel the same way, and what do you think's behind it,

Janie Ward-Engleking:

I think there is a little bit different feel going into this session, we've spent spending a lot of time talking about education, traditional school facilities. And so that's had been on everybody's radar after the study that was done last year that showed that 70% of our schools are, are not in good condition. They're fair or poor. And we have a tremendous number of buildings that are aging out. So I think that's on everybody's radar, we also have a surplus. And we know that we have tremendous needs and education, we've dug a pretty deep hole for ourselves. That's right over the years. And so we've got some opportunities to do some good things. And I'm hoping we can get everybody on board.

Mike Journee:

That's great. And I wonder, do you feel like we have a little different dynamic with the special session that came in in September, where they you guys earmarked $330 million for K through 12 education without setting any policy around that. And so it's interesting to kind of see the dynamics around that too. Is that is that kind of?

Janie Ward-Engleking:

Yeah, there's gonna be a battle probably and J fac on how that money is going to be allocated. There's a lot of different ideas out there. We certainly talk to the governor about some of his thoughts, and, and we all have areas that we want to address. But I'm hoping that we'll look at health care insurance, we know that we underfunded that last year by about 80 to 100 million. We also know that classified staff, we have got to increase the funding that we send out from the state because we're not getting the job done. And to be real Frank, we are not keeping pace with our neighbors when it comes to education funding for teachers. So we're we're we've got areas that need to be addressed. And hopefully with those funds, we can look at those areas. And then I'm hoping that we you know we have a surplus, and some of it's one time but some of it isn't and that needs to also be looked

Mike Journee:

at right and so and that that comes back to a little bit of the setup to this last year. We had a really strong legislative session 11% increase in K through 12. Funding recommended by the governor and approved by the legislature, then the special session with another record amount set aside. Going into this we have a 1.5 billion despite the the measures taken during the special session we're going in with another 1.5 billion in surplus funny having said that, I was looking at the education news website this morning and we read off the headlines that are there. Le A's dish out nearly 100 million to fill gap and state funding for classified staff. Idaho Falls School Board scrambles to address overcrowding after failed bond. This year, taxpayers will shell out The record $596.1 million for education bonds and levies, and rural, the rural Teacher Incentive Program receives 794 applications. And thank you, Senator for your sponsorship of that legislation last year was a, it was an important thing and but that that number shows the demand for that program.

Janie Ward-Engleking:

Yeah, we only had 500 slots. So we need to look at probably increasing that. But But you're right, we've underfunded education at the state level for years. And we've asked communities to pick up that the slack there. And, frankly, right now, with rising property taxes, it's not possible for school districts to pass those bonds. And we're seeing an increasing number of school districts go to a four day week. And it's not because it's good for kids, it's because it's what they can afford. So we've we know, we have issues, and we need to take care of education funding. on a state level, it's constitutionally mandated, we need to do a better job because we're asking our, our local school districts to pick up the slack and our patrons in those communities and where they want to do it because they care deeply about education. And we know that because reclaim Idaho was able to get an initiative on the ballot to raise funding for education, they just can't do it on their property tax anymore. So we can do better, and we need to do better, we owe it to our children. And we owe it frankly, to the state of Idaho, because our businesses are struggling they need they need more people in the workforce. And the only way that happens is if we can convince our children to stay in Idaho, and if we take care of the education needs, right.

Mike Journee:

So Layne, we we Idaho Education members, we're very thankful to the legislature for the recent increases. But we all know and the Senator is alluding to this, too, we all know that, that those increases are going to be there. In the current economic, current economic conditions, with inflation, and the need that's there, it's really not gonna not gonna help things in a significant way, and we need to keep that momentum going.

Layne McInelly:

We really do. Because the opportunity that we have right now with the surplus is going to take us from being 51st in the state for per pupil 51st in the nation, for per pupil spending to maybe 47th. So we really need to look at what's going to be best for the students in Idaho. And one of those things would be lowering our class sizes. as a classroom teacher, when I had 32 students in my classroom, it was really difficult to be able to get to every single one of my students needs. But when I had smaller class size of 20, for one year, I definitely felt the impact of being able to personalize lessons and meet the needs of the individual students. And so being able to have those smaller class sizes is going to be incredibly beneficial. Not only that, but we can also provide more social emotional health for our students, we can have more counselors and nurses and psychologists in our schools, so that as a teacher, I can be in the classroom teaching. And when I identify an issue or a student with trauma, there's a professional in the building that I can refer that student to, so I can continue to focus on teaching. And then that student can go and get the professional help that they need, and then come back to my classroom and be ready to learn. It's incredible, incredibly difficult to teach a student through trauma until that trauma has been addressed. And so to have those professionals in the schools will help the students succeed, which in then then in turn will help this the educator succeed in their job.

Paul Stark:

You know, if I can jump in here real quick to you know, we've had I've heard, I've heard from yours. We all have now about how outcomes student outcomes is the end game, right? We want to increase student outcomes. And we've heard about that through all kinds of a variety of accountability measures and, and different schemes of this and that throughout the years. But it isn't the ultimate unfunded mandate, Senator that like, we're demanding outcomes, but then we're strangling you with the resources, you need to get those outcomes going off of what Elaine was just saying, you know, a class size of 36. It will affect outcomes. And if you're forcing us into that, but yet demanding this it is it is like the ultimate example of an unfunded mandate and unfunded expectations by the legislature, isn't it?

Janie Ward-Engleking:

Well, and I think you're you know, we also have to take into account that we've just come out of a pandemic and and we've seen tremendous learning loss for our children. And some of that's due to the fact that they weren't in the classroom, but some of it is that they were socially isolated and they were dealing with a lot of things Since SOTA expect him to walk right back in the classroom and take off, isn't realistic. So, yes, I believe that we've set the stage for only funding things if we see the outcomes we want. And yet, by not funding, we have determined that outcome is not going to be as successful or as good as we want it to by underfunding schools, by being 51st in the nation by not paying our teachers as well as our surrounding states, we're losing highly skilled teachers to other states. So yeah, we've set things in motion that really impact that outcome of our students. And, and we need to take that into account when we're looking at the needs of our kids. And we just have to do better.

Layne McInelly:

One of those ways we can do better, like you said, is through having a highly skilled, certified educator in every classroom across the state, making sure that every student has the same opportunity to learn by having that educator who's specifically trained, and how to teach in understanding the pedagogy of, of learning of students is incredibly important. And one way that we're going to do that is by paying our educators or professional wage, and making sure that we retain those educators that have that knowledge instead of continually continuing to lose them to the state surrounding us.

Janie Ward-Engleking:

And our, you know, our children should not be faced with the their quality of their education, depending on the zip code they live in, whether they're able to pass a bond or Levy, or whether they're able to attract highly skilled educators. We know that's the most important aspect of a child's education, it's to have that contact with a highly skilled educator. And yet, we haven't made sure that we have those people in every single classroom.

Mike Journee:

Well, in fact, we're we're in the midst of what can only be considered a educator vacancy crisis, right? I mean, and at all levels, not just certified, but also education support professionals. I mean, we have overfilling, state coffers, and we have that ongoing job vacancy crisis for educators, we have a student mental health and well being crisis, which you guys have already touched on. And we have a huge need for investment in facilities. I mean, these are things that that are fundamental to classroom outcomes, that like Paul was talking about, and yet, that $1.5 billion budget sitting there are surplus sitting there that we that could could could do some really good with that situation.

Janie Ward-Engleking:

And one of the problems is we don't have enough educators in the legislature serving in the legislature. So the understanding isn't there. And so it's up to us, as educators to make sure that we work with them and, and help them understand what's really important for child's education. And so it's really our job to do that. But it would be helpful if we had a few more educators in the legislature.

Mike Journee:

And this isn't just the he said she said kind of debate policy, and this is something that that has been talked about in the courts. And there's actually a an old Supreme Court case from 2005. That talked about the the the inadequate funding for school facilities, and here we are having the same conversation now. Talk to you, you're the you're the attorney, and you're gonna talk a little bit about about that about the the constitutional mandate,

Paul Stark:

a recovering attorney, let me say that. But yeah, there is that constitutional mandate. That's it's very clear, it's very obvious. And yet those there are some in our legislature who profess to be constitutionalist who wish to choose to ignore that portion of it. But yeah, we have an absolute mandate to do this. And I think the the addiction to local levies demonstrates just how much the legislature has shirk their duty in that respect. I mean, basically, what they've done is they've taken their constitutional duty, remember the lead, the Constitution says it's the legislature that shall do this. They've taken their own constitution, all duty, and they've kicked it back to these good superintendents that have to go hat in hand every few years to their community begging for the resources that constitutionally the legislature supposed to allocate. And that's that's just a real shame. It's, it's it's unconstitutional. And if we are true to the Constitution, we will see we will see legislature stand up to that duty.

Mike Journee:

Yeah, let's let's talk a little bit more about that. You know, we talked about I talked about the headline about taxpayers will shell out a record 596 point 1 million for education bonds and levies in the coming year. Those were bonds and levies approved in the calendar year 2022. What that headline doesn't say is that there was over a billion dollars worth of bonds and levies put before voters so that means nearly half of the needs that our superstar school boards and superintendents and and school districts around the state asked for were rejected by voters. And that in and of itself creates the inequity we've been talking about. Isn't that right, Senator?

Janie Ward-Engleking:

Yes, it does. And I, you know, I find it interesting we have a lot of legislators that are, you know, they preach accountability to educators. And yet their own accountability is sometimes lacks when it comes to upholding their constitutional mandate, which is to fund schools. And we, you know, we know right now that with the record growth we're seeing in Idaho, and with, you know, the new infusion of students that we've got to build more schools, and it we just can't do it with property taxes, and especially with the two thirds mandate that we have to get voter approval by two thirds. And that's a very high standard. It's a

Mike Journee:

very high standard. And and it's not, and it's one of the reasons why I believe that Idaho Falls vote, the $250 million bond, I believe they they received upwards of 60%. I can't remember four or 58%, I believe four, four, so a clear majority approve that. Yeah, it didn't meet that that two thirds standard that the Constitution requires,

Janie Ward-Engleking:

right. And that's, that's higher than most of their surrounding states, for sure. In fact, I think it's one of the most restrictive in the in the United States. And so it's a very high threshold. And so that's something we ought to also look at maybe 60% is more reasonable, because we really have to make sure that we our children have adequate places to go to school and, and highly skilled teachers. It's it's an imperative.

Mike Journee:

And a lot of these Bom measures were or were in fast growing districts, right, where there's a huge need. Idaho Falls is a good example of that. They're overcrowded. West aid is another great example of a school district that needs more facilities. But also some of these smaller districts were asking for very fundamental things like bus direct buses, and and pay for education support professionals and those kinds of things. That, that you just can't, that that that are fundamental to the running of a school. Right, Lane.

Layne McInelly:

Absolutely. And it also highlights the inequity, like you and Senator said, between the different school districts you can be in one school district that doesn't provide some of the same opportunities that a school district 12 miles away does like having a science lab or having a shop class or having health class that is taught in a health lab, there are opportunities that some students are afforded. And other students aren't because the school districts are able to pass levies and bonds. And it's really unfortunate, because like you said, our constitution does mandate a fair and equitable education for all students in Idaho. And that's not what's being provided right now.

Paul Stark:

And let's see, if I can jump in, let's not forget that this has a disproportionate effect on property tax owners, this constitutional mandate that, arguably, our legislature as a whole senator, with all respect to you, of course, the legislature as a whole has has neglected has now fought fallen on the shoulders of property owners within and if you're, if you're a retired individual unlimited income, this is a greater and greater burden that's been placed on you. Or if you're in a district where you have a lot of Bureau of Land Management or federal force, it they don't quite have the tax base that they may have in larger urban areas. So the disparity that falls on taxpayers, because the legislature won't actually meet the highest law of the land that they're supposed to, that they've sworn to follow, has created just this morass that we see in local by local being a different level of education provided to children. And that's that's the bottom line, right? It's, it's these children, that if you have a certain zip code, you get the premium. And if you have another zip code, you're you're you have textbooks from the 80s.

Janie Ward-Engleking:

And, you know, I think it's important to point out that when these levies and bonds are put on to a property tax owners were in some cases, we're pricing our seniors out of their homes, and we're pricing our young, young adults out of being able to afford a home. And so it's very problematic on both ends, I think. And that's why it's important that we have this record surplus that we invest it, where we need to invest it, and we've invested in the future of Idaho and in our children. And I think it's critical that we're at a we're at really a pivotal point. And we need to make sure that that those dollars are being spent as as they should be on our children in the future of Idaho.

Mike Journee:

Well said. So, one thing that was a couple of headlines that I didn't talk about yet that were in the in the Idaho education The News This Morning. There were four headlines related to vouchers in one form or another depending on how one labels vouchers. In fact, there was an opinion piece from two of your fellow senators in there talking about they're promoting the concept school choice, right. That's one that's one word that are one phrase that people use to to label the voucher concept. And then Kevin Richard actually wrote a really interesting analysis piece about about the monitors that people put on the vouchers on voucher concepts. And so how likely are we to see I well, I guess the question is, is is how likely is about your concept going to be going forward? Now, you are a member of the Senate Education Committee as well. And there are and that that committee is chock a block full of folks, I think, who would like to see vouchers come come to fruition?

Janie Ward-Engleking:

Well, the reality is, our constitution basically forbids vouchers for private schools and for religious schools. And so, you know, we're and to be frank, we're underfunding the schools that we currently have. And Idaho actually does offer a great deal of choice for parents when schools are well funded. Right, right. We have I mean, in a school district, parent can petition to go to any of the schools in the school district, if there's multiple high schools or multiple grade schools. We have 77 charter schools throughout the state. And we have online opportunities, we have homeschooling, we provide curriculum for anybody who wants to go that route. We even have a lot of blended opportunities, we have career technical, there are an dual credit, where they can take college classes while they're still in high school. So Idaho is ranked very high in the choices that we offer parents. So I think it's disingenuous for people to pretend like we don't have school choice, because we do vouchers is a whole different deal. And I think until we are able to adequately fund our traditional and charter schools, in this state, our public schools, we should not be going down the road of providing money for private schools. And frankly, there aren't very many private schools in rural Idaho. So this would this would only benefit a very few areas of the state. And I don't think that's where we need to be going.

Paul Stark:

Senator, would it be fair to say that Idaho is full of school choice, what we're debating is who pays for the choice? Whether the taxpayers pay for these choices or, or whether the taxpayers should meet there, or the government should meet its constitutional duty? Is that fair?

Janie Ward-Engleking:

Well, I think it is fair, but I think we even pay for quite a bit of choice within the state for parents. The government pays for quite a bit. I mean, when you look at our charter schools are publicly funded. And there's 77 of them in this state currently. We also have online schools that are publicly funded, ideally. And so those and we have career technical schools that are public ly funded, we have dual credits that are being offered to everybody. So we fund quite a bit of school choice. What I don't think we should start doing in the future is funding private schools. That is a choice. If people want to take that opportunity. It's a choice they can certainly choose. But we we need to provide public schools for all children. And that has to be our top priority.

Paul Stark:

When I'm, this is kind of using a seasonal analogy, but when I think about vouchers, I think like I have I have five kids myself, and I imagine a time when all this kids were sick and someone was thrown up, someone had a fever, someone was coughing. And so I get sent to the store to get some medicine to help my kids. And I've got the money to help my kids to give them what they need to get them feeling better. But then I go to the store and I decide to buy candy canes instead. And I'm spending my money on candy canes when I know what will actually help my children. That's how I feel a little bit about vouchers is that we have this money. We have a budget surplus. We know how to fix education. We have a moment we have this opportunity right now. To do right and to repair a lot of the a lot of the missteps of the past and the underfunding and the crisis in the in it teachers and support professionals. And instead there's people talking about buying candy canes. And that's just that's just, it's, it's illogical and it's frankly irresponsible.

Janie Ward-Engleking:

Well, and they, these, they, you know, use parental choice as a way to sell this to the public. But the reality is, we, we, we listen to parents all the time as educators, and we work very closely with them, because we know that a good partnership between an educator and a parent is what moves the child forward. So parents are very, can be as involved as they want in their public schools right now. So now, having said that, I will say that, you know, we have a wide range of expectations from parents, and we have to be realistic that maybe not every single parent is going to have the school run exactly like they want, but they can be involved, and we need to do what's best for children. And we know right now that giving children a good public education with a highly skilled teacher is what's important. And we start sending money to parents and letting them spend it to homeschool or to do whatever they want, could get very problematic, I think down the road, it would depend on all we'd have to put a lot of guidelines in place even to do that. And I don't think we're ready to go down that road.

Mike Journee:

Thank you all for the conversation has been really, really fascinating. Thank you, senator for your service. Thank you for your, your, your your place at the Idaho legislature bringing your educators sensibilities to to the discussion over there. Thanks for the lane and Paul for the conversation. That was a good one. And until next time.

Janie Ward-Engleking:

Thank you. Thanks, Senator. Pleased to be here. Thank you very much.

Mike Journee:

Thank you for listening to Idaho education Association's hotline podcast, and this important discussion about the chronic underfunding of Idaho's Public Schools. Thanks as well to our guests IEA member and Idaho Senator Jamie Ward Engel King IEA, President Elaine McAnally IEA executive director Paul Stark, please watch for future updates about new episodes on IAS, social media channels or sign up for email updates on our website at Idaho eaa.org. I'm Mike journee. And as always, I hope you join me in thanking Idaho's public school educators for everything they do for our State students, families, and public schools.