Governor Kempthorne had an opportunity in his final State of the State address on Monday to leave a well-funded education system as his legacy. But he chose a different legacy, proposing to spend $33 million on the state park system.
"It would be lovely to create world-class parks, but not when we don't have world-class school facilities," said Rep. Nicole Lefavour (D-Boise) following the speech. And though Kempthorne earmarked $27 million to raise teachers' starting pay to $30,000--"which is forward progress" said Boise Superintendent of Schools Stan Olson--it's still just a few thousand above the state's definition of poverty-level wages for a family of four.
"I applaud the step forward, but the illusion is that we're doing right by teachers," said Sen. Mike Burkett (D-Boise). "We may get them above poverty level, but then we keep them there, with very small raises and increases for experienced teachers insufficient."
Many were happy to hear Kempthorne's plan for constitutional amendment sent to lower the supermajority to 60 percent, from 67 percent, for approval of school bonds. Superintendent Olson, just finishing up a school board meeting held at the same time as Kempthorne's speech, said he was encouraged by the news, especially because the board had just unanimously approved a $94 million bond for the Boise School District, with the election to be held March 14.
However, while the Idaho Supreme Court recent ruled that the legislature has a constitutional duty to provide students with "general, uniform and thorough" public schools, Kempthorne proposed only $4.5 million this year toward that obligation.
"When we have to report back to the courts at the end of the session on what we've done about school buildings, that's not going to fly," responded Burkett. "Thirty-five to 40 million is more like it."
Democratic candidate for governor Jerry Brady was at the Statehouse with his take on the State of the State. He talked about Kempthorne's proposal for $5 million to start work on a statewied community college network. Brady was complimentary of the idea but disappointed in the amount of money. "There should be funds to really kick-start community colleges," he said.
Brady, Burkett, LeFavour, House Minority Leader Wendy Jacquet and Senate Minority Leader Clint Stennett (D-Ketchum) all said they were disappointed Kempthorne didn't use more of the $214 million budget surplus toward the school buildings obligation and other educational needs. Instead, he earmarked most of it for parks, energy assistance and the "rainy-day fund."
Brady said his impression was of an "emphasis on 'things' instead of people," in the speech. "It's like he's got an edifice complex," he said. "The valuing of children's lives through education, and the lifting up of the middle class, will build a better Idaho than all the buildings we can propose."