Hostility towards public education among politically dominant Republicans in Idaho can hurt the state’s business climate
BOISE, Idaho (AP) – Political hostility to public education in Idaho’s Republican-dominated legislature is leading some companies to question the wisdom of relocating or expanding in a state that is collapsing ranks last or near last in what it spends on K-12 students and has one of the worst graduation rates in the country.
The legislature also targeted higher education earlier this year when it cut $ 2.5 million from universities despite a budget surplus. An influential libertarian group that wants to abolish public education altogether says it will push for a $ 20 million cut to universities in 2022.
“The message that the legislature sends to businesses is very disheartening,” said Rod Gramer, president of Idaho Business for Education, an advocacy group. “I think it’s very damaging to our condition. Not just for our business community, but for our future as a state, our economy and our quality of life.
For preschoolers, lawmakers earlier this year rejected a $ 6 million federal early childhood learning grant from the Trump administration. A Republican lawmaker has said he opposes anything that makes it easier for mothers to work outside the home.
These actions have a chilling effect, say business leaders, who raise doubts about whether Idaho can produce a skilled workforce. It also causes potential employees to question educational opportunities for their children.
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The U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education for the 2018-19 school year said only five states and the District of Columbia had high school graduation rates worse than Idaho’s 81%. The Idaho State Department of Education said the graduation rate rose to 82.1% for 2019-2020, a school year that included the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, and that the state had removed certain graduation requirements.
According to the National Education Association, the $ 7,705 spent by Idaho per student in the 2019-20 school year ranks it last in the country. The association also estimates the national average salary for teachers at $ 65,000. Idaho ranks 39th with an average salary of just under $ 53,000 and 35th with an average starting salary of $ 38,000.
Boise-based computer chip maker Micron Technology, one of Idaho’s largest employers, announced earlier this month plans to build a 500-employee memory design center in Georgia. The company is the country’s second-largest semiconductor maker, with product development sites in five other states and eight countries.
Micron’s director of human resources April Arnzen in a statement to The Associated Press said the Atlanta Design Center will give her the opportunity to attract technical talent from a large and diverse student body through the strong academic presence in the region, which includes Emory University, Georgia Tech, Morehouse College, Spelman College and the University of Georgia.
has important links at Boise State University with the Micron College of Business and Economics and the Micron Center for Materials Research. Arnzen said kindergarten to grade 12 and higher education are critical to business success in Idaho.
“A well-funded education system is essential to maintaining our workforce and necessary for our team members and their families,” said Arnzen. “The continued attacks on our universities and community colleges make it more difficult to develop an effective workforce. “
But the influential and libertarian Idaho Freedom Foundation sees it differently.
“Our public schools are grotesque, and adding more money won’t solve the problem,” group chairman Wayne Hoffman said during a speech in northern Idaho earlier this month. “The government should not be in the field of education. They brainwash our children.
He said his group had worked hard to get Republican lawmakers to cut the $ 2.5 million from universities earlier this year. He has said he wants to cut $ 20 million from universities when the legislature meets in early 2022.
The main talking points for getting the cuts this year were objections to social diversity and critical race theory. Critical Race Theory is one way of looking at American history through the prism of racism. Republican lawmakers have accused universities of indoctrinating students.
Others see the issue as a ploy to stir up grassroots voters and influence policy decisions to undermine education.
“It’s a recurring problem,” said Gramer, president of Idaho Business for Education. “We need to invest in education and not listen to the naysayers.”
But Hoffman has about a dozen and sometimes more House Republicans who will vote his way, making his plan to cut $ 20 million from universities more than demagoguery.
“There is a small, far-right perspective hostile to public education and opportunity for Idahoans,” said Alex Labeau, president of the Idaho Association of Commerce & Industry, a trade lobbying group.
On other fronts, far-right Republican Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin, who is running against Republican Gov. Brad Little for his post, convened a like-minded task force last summer to “examine the indoctrination into Idaho education, ”and made recommendations to the legislature that included the rejection of federal education grant money.
In northern Idaho, the Northwestern Commission of Colleges and Universities examines North Idaho College accreditation after three of five non-partisan board seats were won by Central Committee-backed candidates far-right Republican from Kootenai County. With the majority, the board of directors dismissed the president of the college without cause.
Additionally, many public school districts cannot be satisfied with the money allocated by state lawmakers, and they have turned to voters to ask them to approve levies for living expenses or obligations for building schools, usually resulting in increases in local property taxes. In recent years, Republican lawmakers have attempted to eliminate certain school requirements and levy election dates.
Meanwhile, a group called Reclaim Idaho is collecting signatures to secure the Quality Education Act in the November 2022 ballot. If the group is successful and voters approve, that would add $ 300 million a year to K-12 education. . The money would come from increasing the corporate tax rate to 8% and adding a 4.5% income tax on top earners.
“We have a crisis in our state,” said Luke Mayville, co-founder of Reclaim Idaho.