Signature collecting begins for school-funding initiative

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Backers of a proposed ballot initiative to raise more than $170 million for K-12 public schools by increasing taxes on the wealthy and corporations have started collecting signatures to get the measure on the November 2020 ballot.

The group started the effort over the weekend after the Idaho attorney general's office approved ballot language, and the secretary of state's office late Friday gave the OK to start collecting signatures, Reclaim Idaho spokesman Jeremy Gugino said Monday.

"We're hitting the ground running," Gugino said. "The thing that we're finding is that teachers, students, parents and local leaders from all walks of life are tired of the lack of action in the state Legislature."

The initiative calls for raising the tax rate by 3% to just under 10% on individuals making more than $250,000. The tax rate for corporations would increase by about 1% to 8%.

The secretary of state's office requires that the group collect about 55,000 signatures from registered voters by April 30, 2020.

Gugino estimated that dozens of signature gatherers were out over the weekend and that more than 180 volunteers have signed up for a Nov. 5 signature-gathering drive. The group in terms of volunteer activity is ahead of where it was at the same time compared with its successful Medicaid expansion initiative, he said.

That initiative made it on the ballot and passed with 61% of the vote in November.

Idaho spends about $2 billion annually on public education, about half of all state spending. But the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences says that Idaho in 2016 ranked 50th among states and the District of Columbia in per-pupil spending, ahead of only Utah.

Reclaim Idaho says the result is that Idaho can't retain teachers because of a lack of competitive pay and that Idaho children won't have the skills necessary to compete for good-paying jobs.

In 2006, Idaho lawmakers shifted some of the money schools get from property taxes by increasing sales taxes. However, most school districts in the state started using supplemental levies to try to make up for the lost revenue following the Great Recession that began in December 2007.

"If we don't start investing seriously in our schools, Idaho will continue to export jobs, prosperity and opportunity," Rebecca Schroeder, executive director of Reclaim Idaho, said in a statement.

Gov. Brad Little, a Republican, in August told state agencies to limit budget requests following a revenue forecast that came in lower than expected and eliminated much of the state's budget surplus.

Two other proposed Idaho ballot initiatives have also received the OK from the secretary of state's office for signature gathering to potentially appear on the November 2020 ballot.

One would legalize medical marijuana and the other would increase Idaho's minimum wage.

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