Legislators, Put Idaho’s Children First
All too often, the concerns of Idaho’s children are not fully considered in the Idaho Legislature yet their future depends on decisions made today. Now, lawmakers are making decisions on what to do with a budget surplus after a year of strong revenues and federal pandemic relief. We believe the Idaho Legislature’s primary focus should be investments in the health, education, and well-being of our children.
It has been an especially difficult year for our kids, with potential learning loss, isolation and instability, and mental health issues. Putting resources into their future could be the best investment we make this legislative session. We care about our children and families so let us invest this surplus now when it matters most.
How much does the surplus amount to and where did it come from? Tax revenue this year is exceeding forecasts by 14 percent, and strong retail sales from when Idahoans received federal income supports boosted spending. Additionally, the governor requested holdbacks in 2020 that resulted in cuts of $117.7 million to education, there were $113 million of holdbacks for other public services, and federal Medicaid relief resulted in an $89 million Medicaid budget surplus. These revenue, holdbacks, and pandemic relief dollars represent uncommitted funds that could be used to invest in education, healthcare, infrastructure, and other areas that support long-term economic growth.
Doesn’t the wise investment point to the education and health of our kids? No matter your party affiliation, ideology, or background, we all agree that we should work toward a better life for the next generation. Our focus on children today will show in their level of achievement and their ability to weather difficult situations for decades to come. Taking care of our kids in the present, means better economic growth, more stable communities, and the ability of Idaho businesses to be competitive in the future. It is more than an investment in human capital, we simply call it “the right thing to do.”
Idaho lawmaker decisions represent our community priorities and values, and these decisions are spelled out clearly in the state’s policies and budgets. Using the surplus to put funds back into education to compensate for a year or more worth of learning loss, is the right thing to do. Getting and keeping highly qualified educators, nurses, and counsellors, is the right thing to do. Allowing parents to choose to enroll 4-year-olds in public pre-kindergarten programs to help them be ready on day one of school, is the right thing to do. Ensuring children and their families have access to health care through full Medicaid funding, is the right thing to do. These issues are what drive true change and move the dial on things such as literacy rates, childhood obesity, high school graduation, college attendance, and even prison recidivism. We need the Legislature to invest a significant portion of the state’s surplus in the future – our kids -because it is the right thing to do.
About Idaho Children are Primary:
To help bring children’s issues to the forefront, we have formed Idaho Children Are Primary (ICAP) who will oversee a bill evaluation system called the Kids Matter Index. ICAP represents a diverse group of Republicans and Democrats, policy makers, business leaders, educators, physicians, and other child experts. Despite our different backgrounds and agendas, we all have the same goal in mind when it comes to policy and legislation: bringing the welfare of Idaho children to the forefront of policy decisions.
Our mission is to highlight children’s issues when they come up. Starting January 2021, for every bill pertaining to children before the Idaho Legislature, we will be asking the question: Is this good for Idaho’s kids? We will help voters and legislators alike make informed decisions by providing evidence-based data on each bill whenever possible. At the end of session, we will publish the voting history of each legislator based on the Kids Matter Index. Our intention is not to point fingers, but to highlight opportunity. In fact, when we scored ten child-related bills from this past session nearly half of legislators voted decidedly pro-child, in agreement with ICAP’s position an average of 90 percent of the time.
Yes, we CAN reduce high school dropout rates, decrease teen suicide, increase kindergarten readiness, and improve children’s health, but to do all these things, we need to fully fund education and healthcare for our kids and families. Lawmakers’ action — or inaction —determine whether Idaho children are growing up healthy, staying safe and walking into classrooms prepared to learn. This is what we all want for our kid: a strong economy, communities filled with opportunities, and an environment where all kids can reach their potential.
Total WC: 773
Submitted by the Advisory Board of Idaho Children Are Primary
Alicia Lachiondo, MD
Cristina Leon, DO
John Rusche, MD
Christopher Streeter, MD