Teacher Leah Jones speaks to Reclaim Idaho volunteers and supporters on July 6, 2022, at the Idaho State Capitol. (Clark Corbin/Idaho Capital Sun)
Reclaim Idaho organizers are pulling the Quality Education Act funding initiative from the Nov. 8 general election ballot following last week’s special session of the Idaho Legislature.
Reclaim Idaho co-founder Luke Mayville told the Idaho Capital Sun on Wednesday afternoon that sponsors of the education funding initiative decided to pull the initiative because the law legislators passed during the special session would repeal the Quality Education Act, which may have doomed the initiative’s chance at passage.
The Quality Education Act was also referred to as Proposition 1, which is how it would have appeared on the ballots.
“We analyzed it very carefully and talked with local volunteer leaders and supporters all around the state and had a whole lot of discussions, and it became clear that given the circumstance of the special session, it is highly unlikely that Proposition 1 will receive over 50 percent of the vote,” Mayville said.
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Chief Deputy Secretary of State Chad Houck confirmed to the Sun that the Quality Education Act is being pulled from the ballot.
Initiative pulled after special session bill was passed last week
The move comes following last week’s one-day special session of the Idaho Legislature, where legislators passed a surplus reduction law that included tax cuts and rebates and increases in education funding. The law legislators passed included $500 million in tax rebates, lowered the income tax rate to 5.8%, established a flat tax rate for all filers and exempted the first $2,500 of income. The law also directs $330 million a year to K-12 public schools and $80 million a year to career training from sales tax revenue collections, although it will be up to the 2023 Idaho Legislature to sign off on spending the money.
The special session bill was written so that it would repeal and replace the Quality Education Act. While the Quality Education Act was written so it would take effect Jan. 1, the special session bill was written so it would take effect two days later on Jan. 3.
“The most important fact is the special session law would repeal our initiative just two days after it goes into effect, so voters going to the ballot box on Election Day would know that even if they vote ‘yes’ their vote won’t have an effect,” Mayville said.
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Republican Gov. Brad Little said the special session bill, which he promoted and then signed into law, wasn’t a response to the Quality Education Act. Little said he called for the special session after he learned the latest budget projections showed the record-breaking state surplus increasing to $2 billion. Little said he was motivated by the cost of inflation, gasoline and housing to use the surplus to return tax rebates to Idahoans and approve a funding increase for schools.
Democrats point to Reclaim Idaho’s success as reason for special session bill
But several Democratic legislators said Little and the Idaho Legislature would not have acted so quickly to pursue a multimillion dollar increase in education funding without the Quality Education Act looming. They pointed out the funding increases for K-12 education were similar — the Quality Education Act would have generated $323 million per year for a new fund for K-12 education while the special session bill sets aside $330 million per year for K-12 education and another $80 million for careers.
“I cited Reclaim Idaho as being part of the reason this is happening,” Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, told the Sun the week before the special session. “They got this message out to the people and they got the support of Idahoans to get it on the ballot.”
“There is some disappointment for a lot of us in bringing an end to the Proposition 1 campaign, but when we step back and look at the bigger picture, it’s clear that we have won,” Mayville said. “Because there are two ways to win. The traditional way is to go all the way to the ballot box and get a majority of the vote. But it is also possible to win by forcing the Legislature to do something good that they would never have otherwise done.”
To originally qualify the Quality Education Act initiative for the ballot, Reclaim Idaho organizers and volunteers spent more than a year gathering voters’ signatures across the state. They surpassed the ballot initiative certification requirements, which included gathering signatures from 6% of registered voters statewide and gathering signatures from 6% of registered voters in at least 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts.
Mayville said Reclaim Idaho organizers worked with their attorney to submit a letter to the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office on Tuesday outlining their desire as sponsors to pull the initiative. Mayville said Reclaim Idaho organizers chose to pull it now because of the outcome from the special session and the deadline to print absentee ballots for the upcoming Nov. 8 general election.
In the weeks ahead, Reclaim Idaho organizers are planning a series of celebratory events to commemorate the Legislature’s funding increase from the special session and outline a strategy to make sure Little and the 2023 Legislature follow through on budgeting the new funding increases. Reclaim Idaho organizers and volunteers will also meet over the coming weeks to discuss the next chapter of Reclaim Idaho, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that was also behind the successful 2018 Medicaid expansion ballot initiative, which passed with 60.6% of the vote.
“Those of us who are watching this closely all across the state are going to expect the governor and Legislature to follow through and do a lot more to make sure our schools are competing for qualified teachers and support staff,” Mayville said.
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