House “School Construction” Fails Idaho School Children

Idaho is the only state in the union that does not provide any direct support for public school construction. In addition, a local school construction bond requires a two-thirds majority to pass. The latest attempt to pass a bond in Melba shows the stupidity of the “super majority” restriction. 62% of the voters approved a two million dollar bond for critically needed building maintanence. But, because it lacked the two-thirds majority, the bond failed and the district must wait six months before trying again.

The bill just passed in the House shows, once again, that the Idaho Legislature is simply unwilling to adequately support public education. The bill tries to sidestep this December’s ruling by the Idaho Supreme Court that Idaho’s system for funding school construction is unconstitutional, because it leaves poor school districts unable to provide safe school buildings for their students. At the time, the Court offered some obvious solutions.

The justices said the answer could include such steps as reducing the two-thirds supermajority now needed to pass a school bond; funding school buildings from the state’s general fund budget; or tapping corporate income tax revenue.

Of course, the House bill ignores those remedies. Even the bill’s co-sponsor admits the bill doesn’t really address the Supreme Court’s order.

“This legislation is not an attempt to settle with the plaintiff school districts,” said co-sponsor Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, referring to a lawsuit filed in 1990 by a group called Idaho Schools for Equal Educational Opportunity. Instead, Bedke said, the bill is designed “to address the systemic problems that the court has pointed out.”

The bill’s sponsors must have read the Federal “No Child Left Behind” Act before writing this bill. NCLB, while pretending to “reform” public education, threatens punitive measures such as State or “private management” takeover of schools it determines to be “failing.” The same threats drive the House bill.

According to the Idaho Statesman:

The bill orders schools to put aside money each year for maintenance. It allows the state to take over a school district with unsafe schools, fire the superintendent, and order a property tax increase to pay back a state construction loan if voters fail to do so in two elections.

The “take over the districts and fire the superintendent” threat appears to be a direct payback to those 22 school districts who filed the original lawsuit against the state.

Not all lawmakers favored the bill.

“It boggles my mind that the Legislature would ever choose to penalize a superintendent … if voters choose not to vote for a school bond,” said Rep. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise.

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The money quote comes from Cottonwood Superintendent Stan Kress.

Stan Kress, Cottonwood School District superintendent, led the nearly two dozen school districts that sued the state. He said Wednesday that he hoped the Senate would improve the bill when it reaches lawmakers there.”They did a few little teeny good things with all of this,” said Kress, mentioning the plan to have schools set up a maintenance fund. But he called the provisions allowing the state to fire superintendents “totally punitive.”Kress added he’s not afraid of losing his own job if the bill becomes law.”I’d love to have them come try,” Kress said. “If they’re successful, they can figure out how to honor my three-year contract and pay for it.”

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