Idaho Educators Protest Low Funding

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More than 20 school districts in Idaho canceled classes on the last Friday in January, as several thousand educators and their supporters marched on the Capitol in Boise to protest what one characterized as a "crumbling educational infrastructure."

The demonstration called the public's attention to the plight of Idaho's schools and "energized the spirits" of supporters of education in the recession-battered state, said Donald L. Rollie, executive director of the Idaho Education Association, I an affiliate of the National Education Association.

For the third straight year, lawmakers have proposed increases in public-education funding that have barely kept pace with the rate of inflation, according to one state official. Legislators have not been able to find money to fund a reform package passed in 1984.

Idaho ranked 48th among the states in per-pupil expenditures last year, according to N.E.A. estimates.

"The big battle is between those who see that we have to rebuild our infrastructure and those who say we can't increase taxes because to do so in a down economy is cruel," said Mr. Rollie.

"At the moment," he said, "those who want to use the Band-Aid-and-bubble-gum approach are ahead." Gov. John V. Evans has proposed that lawmakers increase funding for public education by $16 million, a 3.5 percent increase over the current year's appropriation. (See Education Week, Jan. 22, 1986.)

But revenue shortfalls--the result of continuing recession in the state's agriculture, lumber, and mining industries--make it unlikely that lawmakers will support an increase of that size, according to Gordon Fisher, the legislature's public-school-budget adviser.

The Governor's proposed 1987 budget-which most characterize as conservative-would require $50-million in new revenues, but lawmakers have already reinforced their longstanding opposition to tax increases by defeating two new revenue bills this year.

However, observers say that this time the lawmakers are likely to increase the state sales tax from 4 percent to 5 percent, although they will probably have to extend their 60-day session to work out the details.

Meanwhile, conservative legislators have introduced several bills affecting education, including measures that would:

  • Restrict the collective-bargaining rights of school employees to exclude areas such as calendars, scheduling, working conditions, academic freedom, and curriculum development.
  • Mandate that curricula give balanced treatment to the theories of creationism and evolution.
  • Make illegal the teaching of homosexuality as an appropriate life style.
  • Create textbook-adoption committees at the state and local district levels.
"My guess is that little of the conservative agenda will be successful," said Mr. Rollie, "but in the best-case scenario, we'll see state agencies getting only a 2 percent increase for maintenance and current operations."

Vol. 05, Issue 22, Page 11

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