Is it okay to starve your children for a long time and then promise them that, if they are very good and don’t complain, they can have some candy?
Idaho has been keeping its schools on a starvation diet for years. Did you know that we rank last in the nation in the amount we allocate for each child’s education?
You may have seen some of the effects of years of limited funding: Districts cut back on transportation. Many districts moved to a four-day week. Cooks, janitors, bus drivers and aides lost 20% of their income. Schools scheduled all-day kindergarten every other day. One superintendent said they had removed half the light bulbs in the buildings. (Of course, then the public utilities commission granted a rate increase so no real savings were realized.) Citizens went to the polls to vote to increase their property taxes to keep local schools operating. And parents saw the list of “school supplies” grow and grow as more and more fees were added.
Schools in Idaho have been adding technology to their operations for many years. 20 years ago in Moscow, I was bringing computers into the classrooms and training teachers in their use. Children were becoming adept from kindergarten on. When I was superintendent, a virtual high school was established. The Idaho Digital Learning Academy (IDLA) could be accessed statewide and became very popular for credit recovery or advanced classes. In some very small rural districts, entire classes signed up if a teacher was not available for a certain discipline. It was monitored by and paid for by the participating districts and the on-line teachers were chosen for their excellence and trained to meet the demands of working in a virtual environment. Technology is now an integral part of education but it is recognized as a tool to be used appropriately and effectively by the classroom teacher. There is intent to reduce the money for IDLA in favor of for-profit companies. The C.E.O. of one for-profit school received a multi-million dollar bonus last year – that is how our tax dollars were used. They are also used to make political contributions to politicians who will work to benefit the on-line companies.
The Luna laws reduced the money schools received to hire teachers. (This amount has never been generous.) Did you know that Idaho does not allocate money for music, art, physical education, counselors, nurses, and librarians? Instead, a school is given an extra allocation once it has met the student count for ten classrooms. Then the district can decide what program to add – perhaps a class in test preparation? Loss of funding means teachers cannot be hired. School boards have already cut funding for all other programs – including building maintenance.
One intent of the Luna law is to have for-profit companies provide the curricula in our schools. The teacher hired by the company can be assigned hundreds of students and can be located anywhere in or out of the country. You will have no idea who your kids’ teachers are. If the student takes the class while at school, an aide can be hired to monitor student behavior for liability purposes, but not teach. Schools have tried to maintain services by increasing, even doubling, class size. I’ve heard tearful complaints from parents of 2nd graders whose children are in a room with 35 students. The parents fear that their children will not get needed attention and will struggle with reading for the rest of their lives. They need to be worried.
Because schools cut back on the time teachers spend with students, one award-winning teacher told me she is making $4,000.00 less per year. One teacher reported that her district could no longer afford its employee health insurance and she was having $1,200.00 per month removed from her paycheck to maintain her family’s insurance. Even so, those are not the primary concerns – the teachers are more upset because large class sizes and reduced time to prepare or evaluate lessons are exhausting an already demoralized workforce.
I’ve talked to deans at colleges of education, both private and public, and student enrollment in teacher education is much reduced. Young people can see that teaching is not a good career path. We are told not to worry – Idaho has made it possible for anyone with a college degree to teach. They just need to pass a basic skills test. That process removes the quality controls that our colleges have been trying to put into place to assure us that candidates have not just knowledge, but some expertise and the right disposition to be responsible for our children’s learning. We may get some good teachers from the alternate route but we have to be aware that anyone who cannot get a job or has been fired from their position can come to Idaho and our kids will teach them how to teach.
The attacks on teachers are unwarranted. Our students do remarkably well considering the low level of financial support the state provides for our K-12 and university systems. We need for more kids to get career training after high school but we are raising fees for higher education every year to make up for lack of state funding. Because Idaho ranks with the deep South in terms of our per-person income, we are a state plagued by poverty. That’s another reason to tend to basic needs before deciding to hand out gifts.
Here’s my suggestion: Our elected officials and legislators should determine how to provide adequate funding for basic education needs before deciding to hand out gifts of computers and bonuses. I’ve heard that over 80% of the students already have internet access at home. Merit pay is not a bad idea, but there is no credible plan in place. I won’t take your time to even discuss how that plan could happen. We can help our teachers know that we value their knowledge, expertise, and commitment to our kids by telling them so. We can tell the legislature that the laws known as Prop 1, 2, and 3 are hurting kids. A great deal of damage has already been done. We should pause, get rid of these laws, and try to do better.
- Dr. Marilyn Howard, Former Idaho State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Our children’s future is at stake. We need your help to overturn these expensive top-down mandates.
Vote NO on Propositions 1,2,3
1020 Main Street
Boise, ID 83702
P.O. Box 163
Boise, ID 83701
Office phone: (208) 955-8202
October 31, 2012 For Immediate Release . Contact: Mike...