One of the best opportunities for social and economic success in the United States is access to a high-quality education. While there are many factors that can impact a child’s educational experience, the most important factor is having excellent teachers. High-quality teachers are the difference between a mediocre education system and a high-quality education system; right now, Idaho is facing a crisis, losing more and more of its best teachers with each passing year.
I have always considered myself an Idaho boy through and through. As a fourth-generation Idahoan, I was born and raised in North Idaho, graduating near the top of my class from Sandpoint High School. I then earned both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Math & Education from the University of Idaho (Go Vandals!). I was delighted to be able to move back home and teach math at Sandpoint High School in the community where I grew up and have loved my entire life. I could do a lot of jobs in the business world with my master’s degree in Mathematics, but I was very happy to teach in Sandpoint and wanted to continue; unfortunately, I was faced with the reality that thousands of Idaho teachers face. I simply could not afford to live in my hometown.
It was a challenging decision to leave a community that I love, but I moved one hour away to teach in Spokane, Washington and immediately started to make $25,000 more per year. This difference in salary means owning a home versus renting forever. The difference in salary means planning for retirement instead of living paycheck to paycheck. The difference in salary means being able to afford to support a family. As a young teacher in Washington, I already make more money than award-winning teachers with advanced degrees and 30 years of experience back in Idaho.
Idaho, and especially North Idaho, is facing a reckoning. Presently, Idaho cannot recruit and retain the best educators. North Idaho is especially vulnerable to this problem because of its proximity to Washington; many teachers don’t even have to move, they just commute across the border from Post Falls, Coeur d’Alene, Moscow or Lewiston to the higher wages of Spokane, Spokane Valley, Pullman or Clarkston.
Idaho routinely ranks at or near the bottom of education spending per student nationally. Idaho has the opportunity to change that this year. The state of Idaho is always very responsible with its budget, and an increase in education funding is a smart investment. Investing in education is one of the most fiscally responsible moves that a government can make: a better education system creates a state with more jobs, citizens making more money (thus paying more taxes), and fewer people needing government assistance (lowering government spending).
Now is the time for the Idaho Legislature to continue investing in its teachers and educational support staff. The Legislature already took a positive first step by increasing funding last fall; we must use some of that funding to increase teacher salaries and keep our best teachers in Idaho. If not, I fear that many more quality educators will be leaving Idaho, just like I had to.
Tommy Jacobs is a former math teacher at Sandpoint High School in Sandpoint, Idaho, and is currently a math teacher at North Central in Spokane, Washington.