Reclaim Idaho Vista team co-leader Cameron Crow and volunteer Natalie Morse door knock collecting signatures for the Quality Education Act ballot initiative in Boise, Idaho, on September 8, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
Leaders of Reclaim Idaho say the organization has collected signatures from voters in 18 of Idaho’s legislative districts as they work to get their K-12 education funding ballot initiative qualified to appear on November 2022 ballots.
Reclaim Idaho volunteers and leaders are hoping to place an initiative called the Quality Education Act on the ballot for the Nov. 8 general election to allow Idahoans to vote on whether to increase education funding by more than $300 million per year. The initiative would increase income tax rates for corporations and create a new, higher income tax bracket for individuals making more than $250,000 and married couples making more than $500,000 per year.
Reclaim Idaho organizers have until the end of the month to turn in their signatures for verification.
Collecting signatures from 6% of registered voters in 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts is one of the two goals Reclaim Idaho needs to meet.
The other is collecting signatures from 6% of total registered voters statewide.
“It’s very important for people to understand that we are not done yet,” Reclaim Idaho co-founder Luke Mayville told the Idaho Capital Sun. “In order to get an initiative on the ballot in Idaho, you don’t just need the signatures from the 18 districts, you also need a very large total number of signatures.”
To meet the overall total signature threshold, Reclaim Idaho says it needs 65,000 signatures from registered voters, which will then need to be validated by county clerks and the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office.
As of late Tuesday morning, Reclaim Idaho has collected 86,276 signatures, Mayville said. But organizers say they must actually collect 90,000 signatures by the end of the month because they believe 25% to 30% of the signatures could be ruled invalid by a county clerk or the Secretary of State’s Office. There are numerous reasons why a signature could be ruled invalid, Mayville said, including if the person who signs writes down the incorrect address, is not actually registered to vote or signs their name in a way that is not legible.
“So we can’t afford to simply collect the required number signatures and be done with it,” Mayville said. “We need to collect between 25,000 and 30,000 additional, on top of the required total.”
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What does the education ballot initiative do?
If the ballot initiative makes it on the ballot and is approved by voters, the money could go to a number of different areas benefiting public education, including reducing class sizes, expanding career-technical programs like welding or automotive tech, hiring more teachers, increasing funding for arts, drama, music or English Language Learner programs, expanding kindergarten and early learning programs and more.
“It is very clear that the Idaho Legislature has failed to fund our schools,” Mayville said.
While the Idaho Legislature did pass one of the largest funding increases for schools in state history during the 2022 session, Mayville said schools are still underfunded historically and especially over the last 10 to 15 years. He also said Idaho’s average teacher salary lags average salaries in neighboring states including Wyoming, Oregon and Washington and said there is not enough funding for trade and technical courses that give students the skills to earn a living immediately out of high school.
To pay for all that, corporate income tax rates would increase from 6% to 8%, and a new income tax bracket at 10.925% would be created for individuals making more than $250,000 and couples making more than $500,000.
Some Republicans in the Legislature have pushed back against the initiative. House Education Committee Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, called it a huge tax increase. Senate Education Committee Chairman Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, told the Sun in August he also opposes the initiative.
“First of all, I think it is based on a false assumption that money will improve education, and that is not necessarily the case,” Thayn said.
Thayn said he believes more parental participation, more school choice options and an overhaul of the state’s school funding formula are the more important needs in education.
How Reclaim Idaho got to this point
Reclaim Idaho is the nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that was also behind the successful 2018 Medicaid Expansion ballot initiative, which voters approved with 60.6% of the vote that year.
Reclaim Idaho began a 22-day push to gather signatures for this education ballot initiative in the days after the Idaho Supreme Court’s Aug. 23 decision throwing out a more restrictive ballot initiative law, Senate Bill 1110, that the Idaho Legislature passed in 2021.
Under the Idaho Constitution, a ballot initiative is the process for the people to propose and vote on laws, independent of the Idaho Legislature. It’s a form of direct democracy. And the Idaho Supreme Court in its 2021 ruling called the initiative and referendum process “fundamental rights, reserved to the people of Idaho.”
Across the state, 600 to 700 people have volunteered to gather signatures for the education ballot initiative, Mayville said. Although volunteers do gather signatures at some large public events, one of the main tactics for Reclaim Idaho has been knocking on doors and speaking to Idahoans one at a time.
Volunteers often don green shirts and caps with Reclaim Idaho’s logo, and navigate local neighborhoods with clipboards and an app.
The app gives volunteers a list of registered voters, organized by neighborhood, and lists the names and ages of registered voters at a given address. Volunteers can also update the app and Reclaim Idaho’s entire database to show whether a voter has signed or declined to sign the initiative. All of that helps Reclaim Idaho volunteers know who to ask for and work quickly, since signatures of nonvoters don’t count, and they say they don’t want to waste time talking to the same voters over and over again.
Even with the help of a sophisticated app, Mayville said Reclaim Idaho volunteers faced an uphill battle due to the signature gathering requirements, Idaho’s remoteness and large geographic size.
That meant volunteers had to gather signatures across two time zones, stretching from the Canadian border down all the way down to the Nevada desert, with a large part of the push coming over winter.
“What our organizers and volunteers around the state have done is extraordinary when you consider that we started this signature drive in the middle of a pandemic, at a time when the Idaho Legislature was actively attempting to kill the initiative process,” Mayville said. “In spite of that, organizers and volunteers around the state were determined to get this initiative off the ground. And the work they have done has vindicated a belief we have in an old fashioned idea of organizing — the idea organizers shouldn’t just advocate for people they should enable people to advocate for themselves and take on leadership in their own communities.”
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What happens next with the education ballot initiative?
Reclaim Idaho organizers and volunteers scheduled two more signature gathering events in Boise this week to try to reach their 90,000 goal.
By the end of the month, organizers in the Treasure Valley and across the state will turn their signatures into their local county clerks. County clerks are required to verify the signatures within 90 days. Then in early July, Reclaim Idaho organizers will collect the verified signatures from the county clerks and submit them to the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office for another count and verification.
If the signatures all add up and meet all the requirements for legislative districts and statewide totals, the initiative will appear on the ballot as a proposition and be given a number, such as Proposition One, Mayville said.
If the education ballot initiative makes it onto the ballot, it would require a simple majority of votes to pass and be enacted.
If the initiative makes it on the ballot, the work still isn’t finished for Reclaim Idaho volunteers.
“The next phase is to build a persuasion campaign aiming at the November election and making sure that over 50% of the electorate votes yes for the Quality Education Act,” Mayville said.
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