A movement that started with a green RV and the gumption to push for major legislative reform has led to quick and measured change in Idaho over the past two years.
Reclaim Idaho formed in the summer of 2017 with the lofty goal of collecting the roughly 55,000 signatures needed to get a proposal to expand Medicaid, the government-funded health care program for low income earners, on the 2018 Idaho ballot for a vote.
They got it on the ballot and voters passed it into law with a 61% majority vote. Just a week ago, on Nov. 1, open enrollment began for the newly expanded Medicaid, and Reclaim Idaho is celebrating.
Now, Reclaim Idaho has set its eyes on public education.
Rebecca Schroeder, executive director of Reclaim Idaho, said in an interview with BYU-Idaho Radio that low teacher salaries and lack of funding has led to closed schools, shutting down high school technical programs and a subsequent skill gap, and teachers leaving the state for higher pay.
“The money is distributed equally no matter where you live in Idaho,” Schroeder said. “That could be used to address the most urgent needs of those school districts—things like teacher salaries, supplies, career-technical education, full-day kindergarten, special education.”
Again driving a ballot initiative, Reclaim Idaho is promoting “Invest in Idaho” which would supply an estimated $170-$200 million annually to public schools in Idaho to provide for career-technical education programs, increased teacher salaries, technology and other needs of government-funded schools.
The proposal would raise the state corporate tax rate from 6.925% to 8%. It would also increase the marginal tax rate above $250,000 for individuals and $525,000 for couples in annual income from 6.925% to 9.925%.
Money would enter a Quality Education Fund that would be divvied out to schools as needed. That process would be overseen by the Idaho State Department of Education.
Schroeder said this proposal addresses multiple problems facing Idaho education today.
“This initiative will be a lifeline to those most dire needs of our school districts around the state,” Schroeder said, sharing examples of schools without enough chairs and a middle school in Kamiah that had to close after a levy didn’t pass.
After the ballot initiative process was nearly made significantly more difficult during this past Idaho legislative session—Governor Brad Little vetoed the legislation—groups like Reclaim Idaho felt an added pressure to get voter-driven initiatives on the ballot quickly.
When asked whether that was a motivating factor in moving forward with “Invest in Idaho” right now, Schroeder said it did influence their decision, but they likely would have moved forward with the proposal either way.
“We are thankful we’re working under the same rules (as opposed to the proposed increases in signatures required for ballot initiatives), but I honestly think that we would have pushed forward with an education initiative anyway,” Schroeder said.
Reclaim Idaho had volunteers out seeking signatures for “Invest in Idaho” near polling places across Idaho earlier this week on Election Day.
In a news release, the organization said they received about 3,500 signatures across the state on Nov. 5 and have collected just over 4,000 in total.
In order for a voter-driven initiative to qualify to appear on Idaho ballots, at least 6% of registered voters in 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts must sign their names in support.
As for now, Schroeder and Reclaim Idaho will keep working on their newest push. Yet, they’re appreciative of what they’ve been able to accomplish with Idaho voters so far.
“Nothing makes me happier than to see people enrolling,” she said. “I’m feeling fantastic. This is what it’s all about. People are going to get to see a doctor, maybe for the first time in their adult lives. We are so proud that Idahoans saw that crisis, took action, and now our neighbors, friends, family members that need health care will get it.”