By Senator Tony Potts
Jackie Stephens, a precinct captain from the Bonneville County Democrats, recently wrote a commentary criticizing how partisanship is stifling K-12 education in Idaho. She argues Idahoans need to vote issues by personal view, not party view. By commentary’s end, she has switched the focus to November’s Medicaid-expansion initiative, a sleight of hand to use the subject of education to convince Idahoans to vote out of party-lines for Medicaid expansion.
Ms. Stephens attempts to persuade readers that Idaho’s education spending is insufficient compared to other states. The major political parties would agree that education is an investment in the future. Like any investment, the amount initially invested can have an influence. Yet, you can invest $1,000 that turns out profitable, or you may invest $1,000,000 that flatlines. Money does not guarantee a good result. Many factors lead to a great education outside of money’s influence, such as parent involvement and student engagement. So, let’s do ourselves a favor and quit assuming that Idaho’s education is “failing” just because Idaho does not offer the highest education spending out of all 50 states.
Ms. Stephens also attempts to persuade readers that teacher turnover is killing Idaho education. Yet, according to Learning Policy Institute’s report, “Teacher Turnover: Why It Matters and What We Can Do About It,” Idaho’s teacher turnover rate is around 13 percent. Idaho’s rate is less than most other states that were studied. And three percent of this rate is coming from teacher retirement, leaving just ten percent turnover from other factors.
Ms. Stephens also asserts that Idaho politics are being destroyed by voting straight party lines. At the end of her commentary, she mentions that Medicaid expansion can be an issue where Idahoans abandon this practice. Yet, out-of-state labor union cash bankrolled a good chunk of the ballot initiative’s signature-collection for Medicaid expansion in Idaho. And, as Ms. Stephens cites in her commentary’s byline, her position with the Bonneville County Democrats helped to get Medicaid expansion on the ballot. Last time I checked the efforts of county Democrats is partisan work.
And, because Ms. Stephens broached Medicaid expansion, I want to note how much more difficult it is to increase education funding as demand for Medicaid monies grows. A recent Idaho Freedom Foundation report concludes Medicaid spending is higher than K-12 education spending. In FY17, Medicaid expenditures were $194 million higher than K-12 education; in FY19, the difference is estimated to be as high as $308 million. Medicaid spending first exceeded K-12 education spending in FY11, though it wasn’t until FY15 that the Medicaid caseload was actually higher than the average daily attendance in K-12 schools.
Ms. Stephens’ commentary suggests that education is the true priority for Democrats. If that’s her main point, Democrats should rethink their efforts to support Medicaid expansion because they are actually doing education harm.