Idaho Gov. Brad Little said during his recent State of the State address that education is his No. 1 priority.
During an interview with our editorial board following his speech he doubled-down on that sentiment, saying that improving literacy statewide is the one thing he wants to accomplish above all else.
How refreshing it is to have an Idaho governor genuinely talk about the importance of education.
In Little’s first year as Idaho’s chief executive, he achieved some progress on the education front, but it’s clear from his Jan. 6 State of the State speech that he wants to do much more.
This is a welcoming change from how Idaho’s Republican leaders have viewed education in the past. Some have talked about it in the same breath as the state’s prison system — as if it’s an expense with little return on investment.
It’s well documented how the treatment of public education in Idaho by the state’s past leaders was so ignorant that teachers didn’t want to work here and any big company looking for well-educated people to become its work force often bypassed our state entirely.
Idaho’s leadership has come a long way in seeing that dollars spent on education are a valuable investment and there’s no doubt where Little stands on the matter.
Much of his State of the State speech was about education, and it’s clear he has a passion for literacy.
Not long ago, it was common for about 30,000 Idaho elementary students with inadequate reading skills to greet teachers at the start of every school year.
Little recognized this problem when he first took office as Idaho’s governor in 2019 and he decided to do something about it.
With the Idaho Legislature’s support, Little doubled the funding aimed at improving literacy in Idaho, and during his State of the State speech he mentioned some of the resulting success stories.
“At Betty Kiefer Elementary in Rathdrum — where 37 percent of students come from low-income families — we saw incredible overall fall-to-spring improvements.
Reading proficiency among children rose an astounding 32 percent,” Little said during his speech. “At Chief Joseph Elementary in Meridian — where 40 percent of students are low-income, and a high portion are learning English as a second language — full-day kindergarten became an option to help students get on track with reading. About half of the school’s incoming kindergarteners couldn’t read at grade level last fall. By spring, they saw a 30 percent improvement.”
But Little also pointed out during his speech that at the start of this school year about 12,000 Idaho kindergartners showed up lacking the basic skills to learn how to read.
He said his proposed budget for the state “keeps our foot on the gas and makes our historic investment in literacy ongoing.”
But literacy was only one education initiative mentioned by Little during his State of the State speech.
He talked about the continued need to invest in the state’s teachers by making sure they’re adequately compensated. His proposed budget includes an additional $30 million to achieve that goal.
“Teachers are on the front lines of all kinds of challenges,” Little said.
Little also announced during his speech that he’s recommending that $6 million in state funds be spent on Career Technical Education facilities at the College of Eastern Idaho in Idaho Falls, Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston and with the state Department of Juvenile Corrections.
Along the same lines Little wants to continue to fund the Idaho Job Corps’ “three-year project to connect 16- to 24-year-olds to in-demand jobs” and similar Workforce Development Council and Idaho Department of Labor programs.
All of these efforts are aimed at providing Idaho employers with employees who have the necessary Career Technical Education training that the 21st century demands.
Little wants to make sure that Idaho’s young people receive post-high school education that will ensure they can obtain family sustaining jobs regardless of whether that’s a position in the trades or work that requires a bachelor’s degree.
Little appears to be straying from the traditional approach that every graduating high school student needs to obtain a college degree. While college degrees are great for people looking to go into certain occupations, vocational training that leads to a good paying job should be equally promoted.
The bottom line is that it’s a positive evolution for Idaho to have a pro-education governor like Little.
“I subscribe to the view that it is better to prepare children today than to repair them later,” Little said during his State of the State speech.
With that kind of attitude, Little is setting Idaho on a course to no longer be called “the Mississippi of the Northwest,” especially in reference to its economy and public education system, and to have the kind of work force that will get big companies to give us consideration, which is something that often has not happened in the past.
Little said it’s all about “making Idaho strong today and prepared for tomorrow.”
And what better investment is there to achieve that than education.