As Gem States students, teachers and parents count down the remaining days before the beginning of a new school year, the ACLU of Idaho took up what it called "equality in education" August 13 as part of its 2013 Law and Liberty Series. It's noontime event at the offices of the Idaho State Bar addressed Idaho's constitutional promise to ensure free public eduction and its reliance on local taxes to fund school systems throughout the state.
Director of the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy and Idaho's former chief economist Mike Ferguson pointed to Idaho Constitution Article 9, Section 1, which states the Idaho Legislature’s duty to "establish and maintain a uniform and thorough system of free public schooling. "
But he quickly added that Idaho has a continuing dependency on local taxes to help fund that responsibility, something the ACLU of Idaho deems unconstitutional.
“Since the 1980s, education spending increased year after year," said Ferguson. "It wasn’t until 2011 that we saw a decline in education spending, so no one should be surprised that we’re down on our education spending relative to the past.”
But ACLU of Idaho's Legal Director Ritchie Eppink said that Idaho has a continuing dependency on local taxes to help fund that responsibility, something his organization says is unconstitutional.
“We have a promise in our state constitution that says it’s the duty of the legislature to provide for a free, public education for all Idahoans,” said Eppink. “As the ACLU, we defend that constitution and defend the rights of everybody in Idaho to that public education. We want to make sure that the courts, which have always been the structure of our government, decide what the constitution means and imposes those responsibilities on our government. We want to make sure the courts continue to have that role.”
Boise Attorney Robert Huntley spoke about what he said was a potential solution to education spending, a citizens’ initiative for the 2014 ballot that would repeal up to 10 exemptions on sales tax. According to Huntley, should the initiative pass, over $700 million could be raised for education spending.