Support for revision of the state school fund distribution formula to achieve greater equalization of educational opportunity and tax burden; support for increased state funding for public schools; support for kindergartens, career and vocational education, and special education; support for reducing the supermajority required to pass bonds.
Concern for the study of education of Idaho’s children has been part of the League of Women Voters of Idaho’s program since a study of public school finance was adopted in 1967. Consensus recognized the need for changes in order to ensure equity in the financing of public schools; namely, revision of the formula for distributing state school funds and removal of certain fiscal restrictions placed on school districts.
While working for these legislative changes, the League completed a study of kindergartens in 1970. Members agreed that kindergartens should be included as part of the state’s public school system and joined other groups in working for their establishment. Public kindergartens are now a reality.
Vocational Education was the next study item adopted under the Education Program. League members agreed that every Idahoan should have access to vocational training, that career education should be initiated in the elementary schools, and that these programs should be adequately funded and should involve cooperation among educational institutions at all levels.
The 1972-73 year was designated for “Action in Education.” The League gave Education top legislative priority. One of the main activities was to initiate education coalitions across the state to provide lobbying pressure.
Special Education was adopted as a new study item in 1973. League members agreed that special education and services should be available for all of Idaho’s exceptional children, including physical and mentally handicapped and the gifted. One of the greatest needs identified in the study was to inform parents, school administrators, district trustees and the public of the rights and needs of exceptional children. The publication “Idaho’s Exceptional Children—Education for All” was prepared in response to that need. The booklet was revised in 1977 and 1979, and it was printed in Spanish in 1978.
In February 1977, the League of Women Voters of Idaho was awarded a grant from the League of Women Voters Education Fund to participate in the National Education Finance Reform Project funded by the Ford Foundation. The Idaho School Funding Reform project was an 18-month public information campaign. Working with other organizations concerned about education, the League published flyers, booklets, and data sheets; produced a slide-tape show; held a series of workshops across the state and organized speakers’ bureaus to acquaint legislators, educators, and concerned citizens with the school funding system.
Publications on school finance have been a regular part of the League’s education program. The first publication, “Your School Taxes at Work” was issued in 1975, followed by “School Taxes—Today’s Challenge: School Finance in 1977.” In 1979 “Who Pays for Idaho’s Schools” was printed; this publication was updated in 1980 and the name was changed to “Paying for Idaho’s Public Schools.” “Paying for Idaho’s Public Schools” was again revised in 1983 to reflect changes in the property tax base resulting from the 1% Initiative and the shift from the Foundation Education Program to the Educational Support Program. This booklet has become a popular resource in the state and was updated again in 1988 and 1993.
The League of Women Voters of Idaho believes that every child in Idaho should have an equal educational opportunity in the “general, uniform, and thorough system of public free common schools” required by Article IX of the Idaho Constitution. (Adopted October of 1971)
The League believes that the goal of equal educational opportunity cannot be realized until assessment practices are uniform throughout the state. [See Idaho’s Tax Structure] (Adopted January of 1970 and amended July of 1979)
The League supports consistency in state education funding based on long-term educational goals. To allow local school districts to plan more effectively and deal with local needs, caution is urged in the use of one-time funding and in attaching detailed “strings” to school appropriations. Inducements to lowering class size should be offered. (Adopted July of 1991)
To set a realistic goal for levels of state support for public schools, the League believes that a meaningful “state average cost per pupil” should be computed taking into consideration such factors as the average teacher’s salary in the Rocky Mountain states (The League believes that teacher salaries should be increased so that the average salary for Idaho teachers reaches the average salary for teachers in contiguous states. Adopted in July 1991), the number of teachers needed in Idaho, and improvements needed in the educational program. Among the areas where educational program improvements may be needed are guidance, libraries, administrative procedures, and curriculum.(Adopted January of 1970 and amended November of 1973).
The majority needed to pass a school bond issue should be either (a) not more than 60% or (b) 55% if the school district’s bonded indebtedness is less than 0.2% of market value. (Adopted July of 1991)
The League believes that the distribution of state funds to school districts should result in equalization by guaranteeing that districts taxing at the same rate would receive the same total numbers of dollars per distribution unit from state and local taxes. (Adopted in January of1970 and amended in July 1983 and amended again in May of 2002)
The League believes that kindergarten programs should be provided by all Idaho school districts. (Adopted January of 1971, and amended July of 1983)
The League believes that class size should be reduced, beginning in primary grades, with a goal of 22 per homeroom teacher for grades K-3. Next, class size should be reduced in grades 4-12 with a goal of 25 per class, except by teacher request in such classes as band, choir, and physical education. In order for Idaho students and taxpayers to realize maximum benefit from class size reduction, each Idaho school would be responsible for instituting programs to take advantage of this goal. (Adopted July of 1991)
The League believes that every Idahoan should have access to vocational education and recommends additional local, state and federal funds for this increasingly important part of Idaho’s education program. Introduction to the world of work should start in the elementary school with more structured career guidance beginning at the junior high school level. The League favors cooperative approaches such as sharing of vocational education facilities by neighboring high schools, the development of skill centers, use of college or junior college facilities by high school students of neighboring school districts or the creation of cooperative service agencies by two or more school districts. League members believe that vocational education programs should include job experiences. (Adopted May of 1972)
The League of Women Voters believes that the State of Idaho should provide educational programs and services for exceptional children: “Those children whose handicaps, or whose capabilities, are so great as to require special education and special services in order to develop to their fullest capacity” (Idaho Code 33-2002) Exceptional children include those who are physically, emotionally and mentally handicapped, those with learning disabilities, and those who are capable of unusual academic and/or creative achievement.
Services for exceptional children should be provided at the earliest possible age. Diagnosis and treatment should be available to all preschool children. All children should be screened periodically throughout their school years to determine if they require special programs or services. Exceptional children should be mainstreamed as much as possible.
The State Department of Education should provide leadership and expertise in helping districts initiate special education programs, evaluating ongoing programs for inclusiveness and effectiveness, and conducting research as a basis for program changes. The State Department of Education should have the power to withhold funds from districts, which do not comply with the law requiring districts to provide special education.
Parents and the public must be made aware of the rights and needs of exceptional children, the importance of identifying exceptional traits as early as possible and the value of proper programs and services.
Increased cooperation and coordination between social agencies and school districts and between the State Department of Education and the Department of Health and Welfare are essential in order to get the maximum benefit from the money spent and to help all of Idaho’s exceptional children develop to their fullest capacity. (Adopted January of 1975)
The League recommends programs for preschool children that involve family participation. Children will then enter school ready to learn, with parents ready to be involved in their children’s education. Idaho should develop means to identify at-risk students, and districts should develop early intervention programs, including programs to bring students who are behind up to their normal grade level. To plan for the success of all students, League believes that alternative school programs should be readily available throughout the state. (Adopted February of 1992)
The League sponsors the use of effective teaching techniques which can assure active learning and student success and return the maximum benefit from reduced class size. Teachers and administrators should receive ongoing training in these techniques. The League believes that Idaho should use a variety of tools, including performance-based assessment to evaluate student learning. (Adopted February of 1992)
The League recommends shared decision making among building administrators, teachers, and parents as a means to encourage flexibility and opportunity for innovation. Each school district should develop an effective evaluation system, including formative (goal setting) assistance and summative (annual professional evaluation) assistance. (Adopted February of 1992)