Friday, September 25, 2009

Dem lawmakers respond to budget holdbacks

Democratic leadership in the Idaho Legislature today commended Governor Butch Otter for directly tackling Idaho’s immediate budget issues and for involving Democratic legislators in his deliberations. At the same time, House Minority Leader John Rusche and Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly questioned whether the Governor’s plan will result in the best outcome for Idaho’s future or preserve as many Idaho jobs as possible.

In response to the Governor’s announcement this morning of significant cuts to state government, Democratic leaders raised concerns about the soundness of the Governor’s plan to carry over significant rainy day funds and federal stimulus dollars while cutting investments important to Idahoans and Idaho’s future.

“We appreciate the fact that the Governor took the time to brief Democratic leaders on the current economic situation, and to solicit our ideas on potential solutions,” said House Minority Leader John Rusche. “While the Governor’s proposal may respond to the immediate financial crisis, we are concerned that the proposal falls short in adequately preparing for Idaho’s economic future. The revenue shortfall is a symptom. Unemployment is the disease. For our economy to recover, Idaho needs to step up efforts to build jobs.”

In less than two years, Idaho went from fourth in the nation in job gains to being among the states with the greatest job losses. State coffers have seen a corresponding drop in revenues.

“Idaho businesses are closing, we’re bleeding jobs, people are losing their homes, and families are struggling to keep up with increasing tuition,” said Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, as she questioned the Governor’s cuts and his decision to pass over significant reserve and federal funds.

“The reserve and economic stimulus funds come from our taxpayers. That money doesn’t help our economy if it sits in a savings account," Kelly added. "We should be maximizing our use of federal funds and more aggressively accessing our reserve funds to save jobs, create jobs and help build a future for our children. Instead the Governor’s proposal further erodes services at a time when Idahoans need them most.”

“It is a matter of values and priorities,” Rusche said. “Like other Idahoans, we realize that building our economy and jobs is a priority. We hope that our colleagues in the majority party will recognize those values and work with us to create a fiscally responsible plan and the best outcome for Idaho’s families and businesses in the short term and in the long term. We stand ready to work with the Governor and our colleagues in the Legislature to solve the challenges facing us.”

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Are our schools as strong as they can be?

By State Rep. Liz Chavez

Fall is approaching and that means two things: Our children are heading back to school, and football season is here. Whether on the high school gridiron or in college stadiums, Idahoans love to cheer the successes of our star athletes. Only a handful of them will “go pro,” and even fewer will earn fame and fortune, but everyone who plays comes away with a lasting sense of accomplishment and teamwork.

This sense of individual achievement and opportunity – combined with the thrill of doing something great as part of a team – are among the most cherished values we Idahoans seek to instill in our children. We know that not every child will make the major leagues in their chosen field, but we want all our children to have every opportunity to succeed, no matter what sort of career or calling they pursue as adults. That’s why it’s important to take stock each fall and ask: Are our neighborhood schools the best they can be to help our children define their own dreams and reach their potential?

That question looms larger than usual this fall, since our children are returning to school under state education budgets that were cut by the 2009 Idaho Legislature for the first time in state history! Democratic lawmakers fought against those deep cuts, since we knew that funding sources were available to help keep our neighborhood schools strong, even in the economic downturn. In the end, however, Republican priorities prevailed, forcing cuts in the number of classroom teachers and diminished opportunities for our children. With that in mind, here are a few things that parents can watch for as children return to school this fall:

Has your child’s class size increased? Does the teacher have the same sort of help he or she did last year? With budget cutbacks, many districts have reduced and each child will get less personal attention. Tell your children to alert you or a teacher right away if they feel they are falling behind. Barebones budgets offer few resources to teachers, children and parents if a skill is not mastered the first time around, but every parent has the right to expect that their child has the opportunity to learn to his or her full potential.

Have you met your child’s teachers? Back-to-school nights are a fixture of the first month of school, giving you a good way to see how your child spends the school day. Later in the fall, parent-teacher conferences will help you team up with your child’s teachers to address small problems before they become big ones.

What about extracurricular activities? Athletics, the arts and other clubs give children many paths to success later in life. This year, due to the Legislature’s budgetary shell games, many Idaho families will be stretched to pay more than ever for these important opportunities. That’s something to keep in mind next year when elected officials tell you they held down your taxes.

Idahoans are committed to the community schools that have served our state so well over the decades. We know that historically, these schools are essential to offering all children the “level playing field” they deserve to have as they prepare to excel in life, no matter what opportunities await them. We will continue to fight to keep our schools strong and hope that even in these difficult times, our neighborhood schools continue to be places where our children can build their dreams – the dreams that will keep Idaho strong.

State Rep. Liz Chavez of Lewiston serves in the Idaho Legislature. She is a retired middle school teacher and sits on the House Education Committee.