Times – News Editorial: As you’ve likely noticed, sometimes stories, quotations and events are not nearly as newsworthy — or entertaining — as the reaction that those things receive from others.
Such is certainly the case with a 20-page report on Idaho’s public education funding released last month by Mike Ferguson of the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy. In the report, Ferguson, former chief economist for the state of Idaho for 25 years (and five governors both Republican and Democrat), called into question the constitutionality of the real tax structure used to fund schools. That structure is supposed to be funded sufficiently by state sales and income taxes, but has become increasingly dependent upon the supplemental tax levy.
Ferguson’s report is interesting; the reaction to it fascinating.
Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said in response, “I … will affirm a statement I’ve heard many, many times, that throwing money at the public schools does not result in better education.” Goedde proceeded to comment on other facets of public school funding, all the while admitting that he had not read Ferguson’s report.
Local school officials were more thoughtful about Ferguson’s report and the current funding situation. Twin Falls School Superintendent Wiley Dobbs said, “We couldn’t continue at an adequate level without going to our community and asking for the supplemental levy.” Jerome Superintendent Dale Lane said the transfer of funding from property to income tax “works great when the economy is going well.“
Idaho State Department of Education spokesperson Melissa McGrath used questions about Ferguson’s report to continue to shill for Students Come First. She referred to her boss Tom Luna’s Students Come First bills as the path “to create a uniform system of public education for every child.” Not so much — Luna’s “reforms” did nothing to curb the funding discrepancies outlined in the Ferguson report.
And finally, in the April 18 edition of the Southern Idaho Legislator’s Newsletter, Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, weighed in on the report. “Here’s a report by a liberal Idaho economic consultant, which says the state’s public schools funding approach is trending toward ’unconstitutional’.” Hartgen goes on to describe Ferguson as someone “who crunched numbers for Idaho Democratic gubernatorial candidate Keith Allred.” The whole truth is that Mike Ferguson spent far more time as our state’s chief economist working for Republican governors than he did working for Democrats. And Hartgen’s use of the work “liberal” to dismiss a report he simply doesn’t like does a monumental disservice to the creation and open discussion of public policy.
The unfortunate thing about the “reaction” to the Ferguson report is that collectively it tends to obscure the whole point of the report — which is that the current funding of Idaho public schools is not equitable across all districts. We not only agree with the premise of his argument — we believe that the inequity he points out is indisputable.
Except, of course, to John Goedde. After referring to K-12 education funding as “throwing money at the public schools,” Goedde — the highest-ranking member of the Senate Education Committee — kept going. He went on to say, “I think the state has an obligation to fund some equitable level of public education, and I think it’s the option of the local taxpayers to fund anything over that level if it’s their desire.” A troubling choice of words in that Goedde replaced the word “thorough” used in the state constitution with the word “some” in describing the level of public education that the state of Idaho must provide for our children. As if some “minimum daily requirement” of education has become sufficient.
Reaction aside, the findings contained in Mike Ferguson’s report remain. And whether unconstitutional or merely insufficient, the funding mechanism for Idaho’s public schools must change. Continuing to fund less-than-thorough, non-uniform levels of public education with widely varying price tags is not a viable option.