Taxpayers vs. Students: Choosing Sides in the Statehouse

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How embarrassing. Mississippi, which has long had a reputation for adamant ignorance and the underfunding of schools, has passed an appropriation bill designed to lift. the state out of last place as the least educated state in the land.

The Idaho Legislature is trying--with opposition from Gov. John Evans--to cut expenditures for education.

The Mississippi Legislature's new appropriation is designed to provide free statewide kindergartens for the first time, a 10-percent teacher-pay increase, stiffer public-school accreditation standards, tougher requirements for people trying to become teachers, and a stronger compulsory-attendance law.

At the same time, in the same economic era, the Idaho Legislature wants to cut school funding. The Idaho Legislature has consciously voted to lower the quality of the public schools. At a time when the Mississippi Legislature has decided enough is enough and it must pump some basic quality into its schools, the Idaho Legislature is deciding the state can no longer afford schools of the same quality as in the past.

Why? That is a question key legislative leaders must ask themselves. It is a question involving what kind of people they are and especially what job they signed on to do.

Idaho's current legislative leaders seem to see their prime mission as that of defending the taxpayers against the needs of the public schools. They don't see themselves as stewards of the public schools.

Perhaps they don't realize it but, in effect, a legislator in these times is given a choice between the interests of taxpayers and those of schoolchildren. Do they discharge their duty as legislators by raising taxes higher than some of their constituents would like to prevent a decline in the quality of the instruction given the little ones? Or do they lower the quality of instruction for the little ones to hold down the tax bills?

The Mississippi Legislature has sided with the children. Leaders of the Idaho Legislature want to tilt toward the taxpayers and against the children. What makes Idaho so different?

Admittedly, times are tough. But are times so tough and the hopes for early recovery so dim that the schools, of all public services, must be sacrificed? Have we really come to that? Is that really what the people of Idaho want? What kind of legislature would make such a shriveled choice?

The answer to that question used to be Mississippi's. The answer today, alas, is Idaho's.

Vol. 02, Issue 33, Page 18

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