Idaho voters will decide whether to approve or reject Reclaim Idaho’s $300-million-plus per year K-12 education funding initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot, the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office confirmed in a press release late Friday.
The initiative, known as the Quality Education Act — which will appear as Proposition 1 on the ballot — will take a simple majority of votes to be approved. If the initiative does not receive a majority of votes, the initiative will fail and education funding levels will remain at current levels, with the Idaho Legislature setting the public schools budgets every year.
Although Idaho is sitting on a record state budget surplus, some Republican legislators view that as a one-time windfall and are urging caution for spending.
The education initiative is a form of direct democracy that, if approved by voters, bypasses the Legislature to create a new, supplemental funding source specifically for public schools. An analysis performed by the state found the initiative would generate $323.5 million per year, beginning in the 2024 budget year.
“I spoke with a number of teachers over the past two years who told me that they were either leaving the profession or thinking of leaving it,” said Luke Mayville, the co-founder of Reclaim Idaho. “They would ask me a really troubling question, which was, ‘why wouldn’t I leave?’ And it was always difficult to come up with an answer. But as I thought more about it, the best answer we have is this initiative, because Proposition 1 will send a clear signal not just all across Idaho, but especially to our Legislature that even if the powers that be are not respectful of our educators, the people of Idaho do believe in public schools. The people of Idaho do appreciate what educators are doing.”
To qualify the initiative for the ballot, leaders and about 1,000 volunteers for the nonprofit organization knocked on doors and gathered signatures across the state for more than a year.
To qualify for the ballot, the Secretary of State’s Office said the group needed at least 64,945 signatures from 6% of voters statewide and 6% of voters from at least 18 different legislative districts.
The Secretary of State’s press release said the initiative exceeded that threshold in at least 19 legislative districts.
What would Reclaim Idaho’s Quality Education Act do?
Money raised from the education initiative could go toward reducing class sizes, increasing pay for teachers or other education professionals, expanding curricula, investing in educational materials, supporting programs such as drama, music, art, foreign languages, career-technical education programs or more.
To pay for the increase in education funding, the initiative would increase the corporate income tax from 6% to 8% and create a new tax bracket at 10.925% for individuals making more than $250,000 per year and families making more than $500,000. The initiative would not affect sales tax or property tax rates.
Today, Idaho has a slightly lower corporate income tax rate than neighboring states of Oregon (6.6% and 7.6%, depending on the bracket) and Montana (6.75%), according to the nonprofit Tax Foundation. If voters approve the initiative, Idaho’s corporate income tax rate would be slightly higher at 8% than Oregon and Montana’s rates. Of the neighboring states that charge a corporate income tax, Utah’s rate is the lowest at 4.85%. Washington and Nevada don’t have a corporate income tax but have a different tax called a gross receipts tax. Wyoming does not have a corporate income tax.
Reclaim Idaho is the same organization that led the successful 2018 Medicaid expansion ballot initiative, which was approved by 60.6% of voters and expanded Medicaid eligibility to more Idahoans.
“For me personally, it’s a special moment because we started Reclaim Idaho back in 2017 with a focus not only on health care, but also on strengthening our public schools and giving our great teachers and staff the resources they need to succeed,” Mayville said. “And now with the certification of this initiative, we finally have a chance to follow through on a mission that we’ve had all along.”
In terms of next steps, the language “for” and “against” the initiative that will appear on Idahoans’ ballots was due Wednesday. State officials will review the submitted language and forward it to the opposing sides for a rebuttal, which is due Aug. 1, Chief Deputy Secretary of State Chad Houck told the Idaho Capital Sun on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Reclaim Idaho organizers and volunteers will spend the fall launching a get-out-the-vote campaign designed to get Idahoans to the polls in November and raise awareness of the initiative.
Some Idaho Republicans have come out in opposition to the initiative while Democrats support it
Voters have yet to weigh in, but reaction from legislators has broken along partisan lines.
The two Republican chairmen of the Idaho Legislature’s education committees came out against the initiative last year, even before it was clear the initiative would qualify for the ballot.
“My reaction is that it’s a huge tax increase,” House Education Committee Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, told the Idaho Capital Sun last year.
“This is a modest and reasonable tax proposal,” he said. “It simply restores corporate income tax rates to what they used to be in Idaho, and adds no new income taxes to anyone making under $250,000 a year. All the initiative does — beyond restoring the corporate income tax rate — is it adds an individual income tax on the amount earned over a quarter-million dollars a year. So less than 1% of Idahoans will pay any new taxes under this initiative.”
Senate Education Committee Chairman Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, also doesn’t support the proposal.
“First of all, I think it’s based on a false assumption that money will improve education, and that is not necessarily the case,” Thayn told the Sun.
Thayn will be leaving the Legislature at the end of this year after losing his re-election bid in the May 17 Republican primary.
Meanwhile, Idaho Democrats passed a resolution during the June convention endorsing the education funding initiative.
“There is an unequal access to learning opportunities for Idaho children across the state because where an Idaho student lives and goes to school determines the resources and educational opportunities available to them, which are largely due to whether their community can pass a supplemental levy,” the Democratic resolution states, in part.