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Idaho State Journal editorial:  Fortunately, funding for schools is not the most important factor in education, according to a spokesperson for the State Department of Education.

Good to know. Otherwise, some parents and other adults in Idaho could worry about the state’s dismal ranking in what it spends per pupil. The U.S. Census Bureau found that Idaho ranked next to last among states in what it spends per pupil — second worst ahead only of Utah according to numbers from the 2009-2010 school year.

Yet Melissa McGrath, speaking for the state, says Idaho kids continually outperform students across the United States in reading, math and science. “It’s clear that Idaho is doing well spending its resources effectively and efficiently to benefit Idaho students.”

That must mean that Idaho schools are doing a good job, despite having to scrimp and rely on local property taxes to keep the school doors open. Any school superintendent will tell you that’s not easy, and schools are having to cut corners via such means as going to four-day weeks and devising hefty student fees for numerous activities.

But Mike Ferguson, Idaho’s former chief state economist who served under five Idaho governors until he retired to head the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy, takes issue with McGrath.
“The fact is that we’ve been essentially disinvesting in children,” Ferguson says, noting that Idaho has low personal-income compared to other states to begin with. “We’ve always been on the low end of the scale in per-pupil spending. It’s just that we’re basically, in these relative terms, getting even worse compared to what we have been able to muster previously.”

McGrath, who serves under State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, acknowledges that school districts are struggling since federal stimulus funding ended. But fortunately, “money is not the factor that determines the quality of an education system.”

Maybe so, but it sure helps. Otherwise, why would we cough up those extra dollars in supplemental levies every two years?

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