Last Sunday, a big, green camper rolled to a stop on Main St. outside of Driggs city hall.
No, it wasn’t filled with the typical vacationing tourists. There are no kitschy #vanlife stickers to be found. Instead, painted along the top in big white letters, is ‘Reclaim Idaho’.
As the color of the camper suggests, its occupants are traveling the state, hoping to get more green to Idaho teachers.
Reclaim Idaho, a “grassroots movement designed to protect and improve the quality of life of working Idahoans”, is touring the state to garner support for a new ballot initiative, the Quality Education Act.
The initiative needs 65,000 legitimate signatures in 18 of Idaho’s legislative districts to send the act on the ballot in 2022.
Reclaim Idaho comes into this new initiative with confidence, previously advocating for a successful expansion of Medicaid that passed a statewide vote in November 2018.
Reclaim Idaho and co-founder Luke Mayville, an Idaho native from Sandpoint, are now eying up an expansion in education funding and a boost in teacher salaries.
“Idaho is the state that is dead last out of 50 states in how much we fund education per student,” said Mayville. “The even more serious problem is the way that the underfunding of schools affects rural Idaho.”
“When you look at rural communities across the state, including Teton County, and even more so in surrounding rural counties, the average student is getting an amount of funding that is about half the national average,” said Mayville.
This disparity is leading many Idaho teachers and other school staff to leave the state for higher pay or leave the schools altogether.
“We know that underfunding means that teachers are less likely to stay in the classroom, and here in this community teachers are leaving to go to Wyoming where they can make a lot more money,” said Mayville. “We know the same thing is happening for support staff, councilors, and nurses.”
If the act were to pass it would also lead to increased dollars for school programs, such as welding instruction, carpentry classes, and other trade-related skills.
“We also know that in rural communities a whole lot of important programs are desperately in need of funding, programs like career and technical training,” said Mayville. “These types of programs can actually prepare young people to make a living.”
Funding for the QEA would come from restoring the corporate tax rate to 8%, a rate that was previously Idaho state law from 1987-2000. It would also come from a tax increase of 4.495% on income earned above $250,000. For married couples, the increase would only apply to those making above $500,000.
This funding, according to the QEA, will increase funding by over $300 million annually exclusively for K-12. It will not fund administrator salaries and will be dispersed equitably across the state.
Mayville emphasized the importance of community-by-community participation, which is a big part of their strategy to get the necessary support.
“The only way to get it done is to bring local communities together,” said Mayville. “Instead of organizing one big statewide signature drive, we have found it works better to organize different local community signature drives.”
Mayville has a lot of confidence in receiving support from Teton County residents, an area where the previous Medicaid effort gained good traction.
“The community here in Teton County came out really strong, they formed a highly active volunteer team and managed to get thousands of signatures,” said Mayville.
“As of today, there are now over 100,000 people in Idaho getting medical coverage as a result,” said Mayville.
Whether you support Reclaim Idaho’s efforts or not, it is indisputable that the organization provides an essential voice to the people of Idaho… A voice that they can use to make the state a better place.
“We can’t possibly do this kind of work without local community involvement,” said Mayville.