CALDWELL, Idaho – Idaho, the Gem State, is one of the few places on earth where you can find the star garnet. In its raw form, Idaho’s state stone is rough and unassuming, its inner beauty unrecognizable. The same may be said of Idaho’s people.
Which is why I believe Idaho is the perfect place for progress to be made on the education front: The people are tough, making them well suited for a sustained battle. We could be just the people to stand up and say no to “group-think” education politics and those seeking monetary gains at the expense of our children.
That belief will be put to the test on Nov. 6, Election Day. Three education-reform referenda are on the Idaho ballot, put there by Idaho voters in response to laws passed by the 2011 state Legislature.
The laws being challenged by voters include 1) limiting negotiated agreements between teachers and local school boards to wages and benefits and ending renewable individual contracts, 2) providing teacher performance bonuses based in large part on standardized-test scores, and 3) requiring computing devices for all high school students and two online credits for graduation plus allowing high school students to earn college credits at state expense.
To put this challenge into perspective, you need to know that Idaho state government is dominated by one party, yet people from all political persuasions objected loudly to these laws when they were under consideration in the Legislature.
There were coordinated protests across the state — from towns that are no more than roadside stops, to large gatherings on our Capitol’s steps. Testimony was given, lines of people left written comments for lawmakers, and editorials covered the papers – with an overwhelming majority voicing opposition. The people spoke. Their voices were ignored. The bills were passed, and the people hit the streets to put referenda on the laws on the ballot. They handily obtained more than enough signatures to do so.
It’s been my privilege to serve Idaho’s youngest through 11 years of volunteerism in the classrooms of one of its poorest communities. When one looks deeply into the culture of inequality, socio-economic factors clearly divide us and dampen the high expectations we should have for all the young potentially shining stars that are our youth – what we call our future.
This election presents an opportunity for better education for Idaho’s children because it brings the topic of educational improvement to the attention of the public. They, of all people, ought to know that it is easy to pass by the star garnet because of its unassuming outer coat. It is only when we stop, pick it up and work hard at removing the rough shell that the star within is revealed – it is true of Idahoans, and of children everywhere.
We all must work harder at understanding the real issues at the heart of education reform in order to avoid having our schools sold down the political river. Voters must inform themselves on the issues and then do their duty – vote.
Victoria M. Young is a mother, veterinarian, author, school volunteer, and an advocate for equal educational opportunity. She lives in the small town of Caldwell, Idaho.