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Guest Post: A Suggestion for Superintendent Luna and the State Board of Education

December 17th, 2008 by Halli

From Bryan Fischer, Idaho Values Alliance

The education budget, thanks to the foresight of former Gov. Jim Risch, has a rainy day fund of $114 million. This will cushion the blow of a slumping economy to Idaho’s education budget for this fiscal year.

But state superintendent Tom Luna is candidly admitting that schools will get less money next year, and will have to trim their sails to accommodate reduced revenue.

A little known provision in the state constitution might provide a way forward. The constitution requires the state to provide a “general, uniform, and thorough” system of public education (emphasis mine).

“Uniform” means “unchanging, consistent, unvarying in design.” The state is required to offer the same education everywhere to all students, no more, no less.

Quite simply, the state has no constitutional obligation to offer electives, music programs, theater programs or athletic programs.

While the idea is a radical one, and will generate howls of outrage from predictable quarters, huge educational savings could be anticipated almost immediately, particularly at the secondary level, as the state decided what exactly a “uniform” education would look like, and then made sure that every student got that education.

Once it ensures that every student has access to that “uniform” education, the state’s statutory job will have been satisfied. It is not obligated to do more.

The money saved by trimming the system back to its constitutional parameters could then be returned to Idaho families so they can pursue the extra-curricular activities of choice for their children.

What students pursue beyond that “uniform” education, whether in the arts or athletics, would be up to parents and students to decide.

Many parents – as we did – pay for private music lessons for our children. My son also participated in Y-ball, Optimist football, Little League, AAU basketball, and American Legion baseball, none of which were funded by schools with taxpayer dollars. (In fact, his Legion teams played teams from Canada where there are no high school baseball programs. The Legion program provided a suitable alternative.) Athletic programs certainly add pizzazz and school spirit, but are very expensive and nowhere required by the state constitution.

Education consumes by far the greatest percentage of the state budget. If the state is going to cut spending sufficiently to weather the downturn, cuts in education are going to have to be found. Taking a cue from the constitution might show us one way to do it.

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