One thing we can all agree on is that we want our children to have a bright future. One of the most important issues the Idaho Legislature works on every year is how to best build and support a strong educational system that will enable a better future for our children. After a whirlwind three-month legislative session down in Boise, I am pleased to report that there were several critical education-related successes that will benefit our Idaho children for years to come. Overall, the Legislature invested nearly $100 million in new funding for education in Idaho and made some policy improvements in areas such as early literacy instruction and assessment, career-technical education, and college and career advising.
The Legislature continued to support the recommendations of the Task Force for Improving Education, which put forth 20 recommendations and a five-year implementation plan in 2012. Most notable in this plan was a specific recommendation to improve teacher salaries in Idaho by building what is now called the Career Ladder. This year the Legislature invested $41.7 million in new funding for teacher salaries to help us attract and retain the best possible teachers in Idaho. Why is this investment so important? Almost every single major study points to teacher quality as the most important factor in a student’s educational success.
One bill I had the privilege of sponsoring in the House was new legislation that will begin the rollout of career and technical education programs into our middle schools throughout Idaho. In our current job market, there are thousands of open jobs that businesses are looking to fill but remain unfilled because there are not enough skilled workers in Idaho. Many of these positions require technical skills that are currently being taught in high school and our community colleges. This legislation will now allow students in middle school to begin to explore these options and should help to close our skilled-labor gap in Idaho.
With recent local and national tragedies related to school safety, there is a renewed focus on how we keep our children safe and secure. The Legislature has supported several initiatives over the past couple of years on this front. In 2017 the Legislature formed the Idaho Office of School Safety and Security to work with school districts on how to best protect children while they are in school. This year the Legislature passed two important bills, the first allows law enforcement to prosecute a broader array of threats made against children, teachers, and schools in general, and the second bill will require all schools in Idaho to train their staff on suicide prevention and awareness. Unfortunately, the sad reality is that suicide is the second leading cause of death for children in Idaho and Idahoans are 11 times more likely to die from suicide than by homicide.
I will be the first to admit that we did not solve every issue and concern related to education in Idaho during this session. We have a long way to go in improving our educational outcomes, but I am encouraged by the successes we have made over the past couple of years.
Finally, to share some positive news, Idaho personal income rates are growing at the fastest rate in the country and our economy, in general, is one of the strongest in the U.S. The unemployment rate is the lowest ever recorded in Idaho and February tax revenue was 33 percent above the state’s economic projections. It is clear to me that if we invest wisely in our educational system, we will continue to see strong economic outcomes and Idaho will continue to be a great place to live, work, and play.
Rep. Paul Amador is a Republican from Coeur d’Alene.