One volunteer on the Capitol steps stood out from the crowd at a Reclaim Idaho event on Wednesday, and not just because she was wearing a rainbow tie-dye skirt and rainbow tie-dye Chaco sandals.
Anise Welty, who spoke at the large gathering, is just 13 years old and a rising freshman in the Boise School District. Along with her mother, she collected signatures for Reclaim Idaho’s Quality Education Act ballot initiative over the past year.
Reclaim Idaho — the group that was responsible for putting a Medicaid expansion initiative before voters, who passed it — started this effort to expand funding for public schools. The initiative’s language is that it would restore the corporate tax rate to 8% from 6.5%, and raise taxes by about 4.5% on individuals making more than $250,000 a year and couples making more than $500,000 a year.
“Anise has a special stake in the future of our public schools,” said Reclaim Idaho co-founder and executive director Luke Mayville as he introduced the teenager.
Anise, her mom and dozens of other volunteers presented more than 100,000 signatures to be certified by Secretary of State Lawrence Denney’s office. If that happens, the measure will be on the November ballot.
“Reclaim Idaho’s initiative will encourage teachers to stay where we need them,” Anise said in her speech. “We need teachers to educate our future generations.”
Idaho per-pupil school funding remains last in nation
Leah Jones is a second-grade teacher in Twin Falls who said she often has to buy her own school supplies because of underfunding.
“Some years I’ve spent over $4,000 of my own money in my classroom to buy supplies for me and my students,” she told the crowd. “I have to buy shelves, staplers, staples. I buy pencils, glue and scissors, and if I don’t buy those things, my students will go without.”
The Twin Falls School District spends less than $7,000 per student, Mayville said. This is below both the national and Idaho averages.
Idaho ranks dead last among states in terms of per-pupil funding and its schools receive the least amount of funding in the nation.
Former Boise School District superintendent Don Coberly said Idaho class sizes, meanwhile, are the seventh largest in the country.
“The most effective way to reduce class sizes is to hire more teachers, and that’s one reason why the quality education initiative is so important,” Coberly said. “This will provide funds to hire and retain teachers at more competitive salaries.”
Idaho teachers are paid significantly less than their peers in neighboring states.
Jones said teachers in Idaho are paid an average of $27,000 less than those in Washington, $16,000 less than Oregons and $8,000 less than Wyoming’s. She said low pay has forced educators to consider leaving the state or the profession altogether.
Mayville cited a statistic indicating that 51% of teachers in Idaho have considered leaving the career.
Quality Education Act expected to appear on the ballot
After the speeches, volunteers formed a line from the front steps of the Capitol to the Secretary of State’s Office. They passed dozens of brightly colored backpacks full of signatures along the line, bucket-bridgade style.
Each backpack featured the name of an Idaho county or a message promoting public school funding. Reclaim Idaho said it collected signatures from all 44 counties in Idaho. To get an initiative on the ballot requires gathering signatures from 6% of registered voters from at least 18 legislative districts, and from 6% of total voters statewide.
When all the backpacks reached their destination in Denney’s office, the group cheered. Mayville led a chant of, “When I say vote, you say yes!” that resounded throughout the rotunda.
Mayville told the Idaho Statesman that the signatures have all been verified by their individual counties, but it will take Denney’s office a week to 10 days to certify them for the whole state.
He said he does not expect any certification problems.
“The Quality Education Act gives the people of Idaho a chance to reclaim a principle that the founders of our state declared 132 years ago that every Idaho child deserves a quality education,” said Mayville.