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Backers of Idaho education funding initiative submit petition to state officials

Reclaim Idaho members pass backpacks filled with petition signatures up the steps of the Idaho state capitol in Boise, Wednesday, July 6.
Video still from Reclaim Idaho
Reclaim Idaho members pass backpacks filled with petition signatures up the steps of the Idaho state capitol in Boise, Wednesday, July 6.

Supporters of an initiative aimed at raising education funding in Idaho submitted signatures Wednesday to get their measure on ballots in November.

A group called Reclaim Idaho and its co-founder, Luke Mayville, say the state’s schools are woefully underfunded. To remedy that, the group is pushing a measure it calls the Quality Education Act. It would raise funding for the state’s K-12 schools by $323 million a year. That money is aimed at pay raises for teachers and support staff (excluding administrators, such as district superintendents and school principals), and specialized programs such as arts and career technical prep.

The funding boost would be paid for through what Mayville calls modest tax increases on corporations and Idaho’s wealthiest residents. The corporate tax rate would increase eight percent. The initiative would also impose a 4.5 percent tax on income levels well above the state’s median. The group estimates the individual tax would affect about one percent of Idaho residents.

“Those investments would be paid for without a penny of new taxes on anyone making under $250,000 a year, or any married couple making under $500,000 a year,” Mayville said.

Reclaim Idaho’s website says the group collected 96,913 signatures in support of putting the Quality Education Act on ballots this fall. The threshold is six percent of qualified voters in at least 18 of the state’s legislative districts, with a minimum total of 64,945 voters statewide.

Earlier this year, Idaho lawmakers granted Gov. Brad Little’s request to significantly raise funding for the state’s public schools. Reclaim Idaho says that was a step in the right direction, but it wasn’t enough to fully address what the group says are chronically underfunded schools and education programs.

Reclaim Idaho has used the initiative method before to go around what Mayville says is the legislature’s failure to act. Idaho voters approved the group’s 2018 initiative to expand Medicaid eligibility, and Mayville hopes for a repeat with this year’s education funding measure.

“That’s exactly what the initiative process is designed for. In moments like this, it gives the citizens of Idaho a chance to do the job when the legislature won’t,” Mayville said.

Mayville says the signatures submitted Wednesday have already been verified by county-level election officials. He expects the secretary of state’s office will give final approval to the petition in one to two weeks.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for fifteen years, primarily in reporting, hosting and interviewing. His previous ports-of-call were WUOT-FM in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alabama Public Radio. His work has been heard nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now and NPR’s top-of-the-hour newscasts.