A little over two years ago, I walked into my classroom to begin my first year of teaching second grade in Twin Falls. The room was empty except for desks and shelves. Parents supplied some of the materials students needed. However, too many students had little or no supplies, which meant I came out of pocket for those items. That’s before I even bought my own teaching materials. I bought shelves, books, pens, pencils, staplers, erasers and much more. Believe it or not, I, an Idaho public school teacher, have a project on donorschoose.org to raise money to buy tables for my students—tables I’ve needed and asked for since teaching second grade. I spent just under $4,000 of my own money for my classroom last year.
You’ll find hundreds of stories like this from Idaho teachers all over the state who buy their own school supplies for their classrooms—staples, paper, pens, pencils and sometimes desks, tables, shelves or even chairs. Ultimately, Idaho public school teachers will tell you they spend hundreds and sometimes even thousands of dollars for their students every year. They do this because they care about their students’ futures and want them to prosper and succeed. If only Idaho’s state legislators felt the same way.
Teachers like myself are working all around the state to gather signatures for Reclaim Idaho’s Invest in Idaho citizen ballot Initiative. We don’t do this for ourselves. We do it for the hardworking families whose children come through our schools every day. We want to give them the tools they need to get a fair shot at success in Idaho. Unfortunately, state investments in our children are nationally low. How do I know this? Because I pay for my own school supplies.
Idaho is next to last in the nation in public school investments. We leave thousands of family-supporting jobs unfilled every year that amount to hundreds of millions of dollars in wages that go unclaimed. Businesses bypass Idaho because we don’t have enough skilled workers. Rural Idaho schools bear the brunt of this problem. Too many districts have classrooms without enough chairs for the students who attend. I believe every child in our state deserves a fair shot at success no matter where they live. Unfortunately, that’s not the reality. There are “haves” and “have-nots” in this state because of how the politicians fund public schools.
I don’t have to tell you about rising property taxes. I know a lot of you are getting priced out of your homes. Part of that problem is due to the increase in so-called “supplemental” school levies around the state. Despite the fact that Idaho has a constitutional duty to provide every Idahoan with a “uniform and thorough system of public” schools, they are pushing the burden onto local taxpayers. If these levies were truly “supplemental”—meaning extra investments for schools to enhance the educational experience—local communities could honestly debate whether to approve them. The problem is, these so-called “supplemental” levies are often for essential services like water, electricity, roof repairs and so on.
When did electricity become “supplemental”? Are Idaho teachers “supplemental”? What about our kids? Are they supplemental?
Like every teacher in Idaho, I love my students and want to see them succeed. But, what kind of message is the state sending when our students go without basic resources like school supplies or chairs? Our kids can’t gain the skills they need when our state considers electricity to be “supplemental.”
The Invest in Idaho citizen ballot initiative is about investing in our children and the future of our state. A generation of kids have already been left behind. We can’t afford to saddle the next generation with the same problems. If the politicians won’t do what needs to be done, then it’s up to the people of Idaho to pass a law that benefits the next generation. When lawmakers fail to meet their constitutional duty to provide equal educational opportunities for every Idahoan, you can use your constitutional right to bring a ballot initiative and address Idaho’s education crisis yourself.
I encourage you to spread the word about the Invest in Idaho initiative and urge your friends and neighbors to sign it.
Leah Jones is a resident of and teacher in Twin Falls.