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Viewpoint: Issues facing Idaho public schools in 2021

Education leaders discuss some of the big issues facing Idaho public schools and universities, including funding, teacher pay and COVID-19.

BOISE, Idaho — This edition of Viewpoint focuses on the main issues and challenges facing Idaho's public schools and 4-year higher learning institutions.

Below are excerpts from the discussion about school funding versus tax relief. The guests this week are Idaho Education Association (IEA) President Layne McInelly and Idaho State Board of Education President Debbie Critchfield.

IEA, the teachers union, is pushing for lawmakers to use a large chunk of the state's projected $600 million budget surplus to make a substantial investment in public schools rather than implementing tax cuts.

Gov. Brad Little has proposed $455 million in tax relief, among the largest tax cuts in state history. Legislators are now considering several tax relief measures.

In terms of investing in education, the governor has also proposed $30 million dollars for literacy, career technical education and other programs and $250 million to fully fund the Career Ladder program to raise teacher salaries. The state has also received millions in federal coronavirus relief dollars for schools.

But Idaho currently ranks 51st in the country in per-pupil spending, and has a teacher shortage, partly due to neighboring states paying better.
IEA President Layne McInelly believes lawmakers will miss an opportunity if they don't tap into more of the $600 million surplus for public schools.

"The thing that we want to point out is that the enrollment growth because of the population boom and the inflation has just kept Idaho increases at a very minimum," McInelly said. "We need to be able to provide support systems for our students across the state. We need to be able to utilize more dollars to hire the personnel that's required. Many districts across the state don't have school nurses or school counselors or psychologists, and we know with having been in this global pandemic for a year, when students are coming back into our school systems we're going to need more of those social and emotional support needs such as the counselors and the nurses."

During the taping of this week's Viewpoint, State Board of Education President Debbie Critchfield was asked for her take on using the surplus on school funding vs. tax cuts.

"We know, and history has told us, that education can always use more resources, particularly when more districts are calling for local levies and bonds," Critchfield said. "I guess I would first say let's understand what our needs are, what the problems are, what we want to do as far as a framework for addressing them and back that up and figure out what dollars need to be attached to that."

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra's budget request is just over $2 billion dollars.

Lawmakers have started working on the education budgets, but have not yet set the budgets for public schools and higher education.

Viewpoint airs Sunday mornings at 6:30 on KTVB and several times after that on 24/7 with the first airing at 9 a.m.

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