Teacher Leah Jones speaks to Reclaim Idaho volunteers and supporters on July 6, 2022, at the Idaho State Capitol. (Clark Corbin/Idaho Capital Sun)
Dozens of cheering Reclaim Idaho volunteers turned in more than 100,000 signatures for verification at the Idaho State Capitol on Wednesday as part of their effort to place a $300 million education funding ballot initiative on November’s ballot.
Reclaim Idaho co-founder Luke Mayville reiterated Wednesday that he thinks the volunteer-led initiative effort has exceeded the requirements to place an initiative on the ballot, which include collecting signatures from at least 6% of registered voters statewide (about 65,000 voters) and signatures from at least 6% of voters in 18 different legislative districts.
Mayville said the education funding initiative is necessary because Idaho legislators aren’t providing enough financial support to provide a quality education to every Idaho child.
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“In recent decades, especially in the last 20 years, the majority of our legislators have failed to fulfill their obligation,” Mayville told a crowd of volunteers and supporters. “They let Idaho sink to 50th out of 50 states in funding for public schools.”
Mayville told the Idaho Capital Sun that county clerks have already completed the first phase of the signature verification process. Based on the counties’ certification, Mayville said more than 70,000 of the 100,000 signatures are valid and Reclaim Idaho volunteers met the 6% threshold in 20 different legislative districts, not just 18.
Now, Mayville said the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office will spend about 10 days or so conducting another signature verification. If the secretary of state verifies the signatures and certifies the ballot initiative, it will appear on Idahoans’ Nov. 8 ballot, likely as Proposition 1.
There are a number of reasons why individual signatures would not be certified as valid, including if the person who signed is not a registered voter or Idaho resident, if the writing or signature on the petition is illegible or if the address the person who signs writes down does not exactly match the registered voter’s address on file with the state.
A ballot initiative (like a referendum) is a form of direct democracy where the voters of Idaho — not state legislators — will decide whether or not to pass Reclaim Idaho’s education funding initiative.
Assuming the initiative is certified for the ballot, Idaho voters will decide whether to approve more than $300 million in public schools funding per year that will be paid for by increasing the corporate income tax rate from 6% to 8% and creating a new tax bracket at 10.925% for individuals making more than $250,000 per year or families making more than $500,000. The education funding initiative does not affect the sales tax rate or property taxes.
It would take a simple majority of voters to approve the ballot initiative. If it passes, Individuals who make less than $250,000 and families who make less than $500,000 will not see a tax increase.
If the initiative is approved, the money could go toward increasing teacher pay, hiring more teachers, investing in programs such as music, art, career-technical education programs, classroom materials or textbooks and more.
Reclaim Idaho is the same nonprofit, nonpartisan organization behind the successful 2018 Medicaid expansion ballot initiative, which passed with 60.6% of the vote.
What are the arguments for and against the education ballot initiative?
Some Republican legislators prominent in education circles have already come out in opposition to the education initiative.
“My reaction is that it’s a huge tax increase,” House Education Committee Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, told the Sun last year.
Senate Education Committee Chairman Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, also came out against the initiative.
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“First of all, I think it’s based on a false assumption that money will improve education, and that is not necessarily the case,” Thayn previously told the Sun. “The No. 1 need in education is not more money.”
Instead Thayn, who lost his primary election in May, said he supported more school choice options, parental involvement and overhauling Idaho’s school funding formula.
But Reclaim Idaho organizers and volunteers said legislators haven’t done enough to fulfill their duty in the Idaho Constitution to provide a “general, uniform and thorough” system of free public schools.
Retired volunteer April Frederick heard about Reclaim Idaho because of its success with expanding Medicaid eligibility. She said she decided to gather signatures to support the education ballot initiative after reflecting on her own education and deciding that all Idaho children deserve a quality education. Frederick said she personally gathered more than 3,000 signatures, starting with Fourth of July events in 2021 and continuing with knocking doors in Nampa, Kuna, Gooding, McCall, Meridian, Emmett and Twin Falls.
Frederick said she encountered bipartisan support across the state, regardless of the neighborhood she visited or event she attended to gather signatures.
“People everywhere I went signed,” Frederick told the Sun. “We couldn’t collect signatures fast enough.”
Volunteers young and old gathered signatures and helped submit signatures to the state on Wednesday.
Anise Welty, a 13-year-old Reclaim Idaho volunteer who gathered signatures knocking on doors with her mother has participated in more than 30 signature gathering events since June 2021, Mayville said.
“I started because I see how hard teachers work for their students,” Anise told a crowd of more than 100 people at the Capitol.
“Reclaim Idaho’s initiative will encourage teachers to stay where we need them,” Anise added.
Blanca Romero Green, the first Latina elected to the Blaine County School Board, told the crowd at the Capitol that pay and support for teachers is so low in Idaho that she described the teacher shortage as a crisis. Romero Green said that her district has 30 unfilled teaching positions that she worries will go unfilled because people cannot afford to live in Blaine County, which includes the Sun Valley Resort and towns of Hailey and Ketchum, on a teacher’s salary.
Passing the education initiative could increase funding for schools, which would allow districts to increase teacher pay, hire more educators and reduce class sizes, Romero Green said.
“The quality of a child’s education should not depend on their ZIP code,” Romero Green said.
Leah Jones, a second-grade teacher from Twin Falls, also spoke in favor of the education initiative on Wednesday. Jones said Idaho teacher salaries lag salaries in neighboring states, and she said the National Education Association has done surveys showing 51% of Idaho teachers have considered leaving the classroom.
Jones said the lack of funding means that each year she spends her own money buying school supplies and shelves for her classroom. One year, Jones estimated she spent $4,000 of her own money on her classroom.
“It’s not just about the salary,” Jones said. “It’s about the lack of support in the classroom.”
Idaho Capital Sun intern Mia Maldonado contributed to this report.
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