by Larry Grant
Idaho Democratic Party Chairman
This last week I paid the Idaho Republican-imposed “Family Tax.” If you have kids in school, you just paid it too. I paid mine when I registered my grandson for his sophomore year at our local high school.
The cost was over $100. It included $10 for the botany class, $5 for physical education/weights, a $75 athletic fee, $22 for a student activity card, and $5 for class dues. Students also pay additional fees for band, art, and broadcasting. Other than the class dues, I was dismayed at the amounts, particularly the athletic fee so he can play football and the student activity card fee required for all band, cheer, dance and sports.
I now see firsthand just how much the budget slashing demanded by Governor Otter and the school reform plans implemented by Superintendant of Public Instruction Tom Luna and imposed by our Republican-controlled legislature are really costing Idaho’s working, taxpaying families.
The fees charged to students are only part of it. There are plenty of other costs that are included in what can only be called Idaho’s “family tax” since it hits families with school-age children the hardest. Curtailing student bus service immediately means additional costs to the family for transportation. Four-day school weeks, furlough days, and reduced kindergarten classes add to the cost of daycare and in some families means a parent has to miss a day of work every week.
Because the state cut funding to local school districts, many districts are asking for override levies to make up the additional costs. Even after districts fire teachers and cut every imaginable expense or, in many cases, shift costs to parents through additional fees, reduced services or higher local taxes, it’s still not enough to provide the quality education every Idaho family is guaranteed by law in the Idaho State Constitution.
How many families have less money in their monthly budget because of these costs? How many talented students will never play sports or be in the band or take an art class because of the extra fees? How many families already struggling in these hard economic times will finally, simply, give up—and let their kids drop out of activities or even school because they can’t afford the state’s “free” education?
Our Republican leaders defend their actions by claiming there is a budget crisis—but only after they severely and deliberately underestimated revenues last year. Why are they shifting the costs to parents rather than closing tax loopholes, cutting something else or, yes, even raising revenues?
The answer, of course, is that Republicans want public schools to fail. They want to privatize education, just like they want to privatize Social Security and Medicare. Republicans support private schools, not public education. And, in a perverse twist of logic that makes sense only to them, they want the government to pay for private schools by giving vouchers to parents.
Simply put, they want budget cuts except when they don’t and they want to get rid of government except when it is their benefits that are being cut.
Fortunately, I can afford the extra fees. My grandson will play football. But how many other young, promising athletes and students will be denied that and other opportunities because of our stingy and misguided state legislature?