Reclaim Idaho submits signatures for K-12 funding initiative

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Organizers of an education funding initiative turned in more than 100,000 petition signatures to the Idaho Secretary of State’s office on Wednesday in hopes of getting the Quality Education Act on the November ballot.

Most of the signatures gathered by Reclaim Idaho have already been verified by local county clerks, but the secretary of state’s office must conduct a final review before the measure officially qualifies for the ballot. The Quality Education Act would generate an estimated $323 million each year for K-12 education by increasing income taxes for corporations and the state’s highest-earning residents. That’s about a 14% increase over the current state funding.

Under the plan, the corporate income tax rate would increase from 6% to 8%, and individuals earning more than $250,000 in taxable income — or $500,000 for joint filers — would be placed in a new 10.925% income tax bracket. The revenue would be used for things like teacher and support staff salaries, reducing class sizes, hiring school counselors and psychologists, providing classroom supplies and materials and for special education services and programs like art, music, career-technical education and full-day kindergarten.

The crowd of cheering volunteers, in bright-green T-shirts, gathered on the Capitol steps for a rally before delivering the petitions, at which Luke Mayville, Reclaim Idaho co-founder, brandished a copy of the Idaho Constitution.

“When the founders of our state drafted this document 132 years ago, they stated clearly that it is the obligation of our Legislature to provide a quality education to every Idaho child,” he told the crowd. “But in recent decades, especially in the last 20 years, the majority of our legislators failed to fulfill their obligation to Idaho’s children. They let Idaho sink to 50th out of 50 states in funding for education.”

Idaho is dead last in the country for per-student spending, according to a 2021-22 ranking report from the National Education Association. The Gem State spends $8,662 annually per student. Utah is the only other state spending less than $10,000.

An initiative needs 65,000 valid signatures from registered Idaho voters to get on a ballot. Those signatures also must represent at least 6% of 18 different legislative districts across the state.

To become state law, a ballot initiative needs 50% plus one vote in November. Leah Jones, a second grade teacher in Twin Falls, is among those who signed the petition. She said she loves her job but staffing shortages, low wages and stress have overshadowed the classroom moments she loves the most.

The outcome of the initiative could be a deciding factor for whether she stays in her job, Jones said.

“I might be one of those teachers that I’ve watched leave, that went to college to be a teacher, that loves teaching and working with kids. And I just can’t anymore,” Jones said. “There will be more like me leaving if nothing changes. And they’ll be shorter on teachers. They’re already short. It’s just not, it’s not fair to our students. They deserve quality educators.”