Guest column: What’s a ‘common’ education anyway?

In regard to public education fees, don’t forget to think about what having a “common” education means, writes Robert Jones.

Two articles caught my attention in the June 7 Post Register, both concerning state education funding. In Idaho, education funds come from various state, county and local taxes.

First “Fees in ‘free’ public education,” asked what the state Constitution means by “establish and maintain a general, uniform, and through system of public, free common schools.”

If you look up these words in Webster’s dictionary you will find that “general” and “common” relate to equally belonging to a group, the state. “Uniform” and “thorough” relate to something being identical or consistent. “Free” means there is no charge for the item or service.

As I read this, it means that Idaho must provide an equal, complete and free education system to every school in the state. This article raises the point not covered in these definitions, “what is considered a common school.”

Does it cover just basic “reading, writing, and arithmetic” or does it include “extracurricular items?” If it covers only the basics, and I am sure that when the Constitution was written, “common” meant these items only, then any extracurricular items a school wants to provide its students must be “fee based.” My problem is that “extracurricular items” are subjective and are they necessary. Are sports programs necessary? How about debate clubs, theatre or art?

We equally belong to the state so we must define “common.” Once made, the state must “provide, equally to every school system in the state,” for these programs for free. Beyond that must be paid for by individual school system.

The next sticking point is “rich” vs. “poor” districts. My view is once a poor district has made an honest effort to raise taxes for their community the state must make up the difference.

One thing I don’t want is the courts getting involved, as in Washington, in deciding what is common.

The second article concerns four local meetings of the legislative interim committee and will have bearings on the first article.

Their stated aim is “to gather unbiased scientifically valid information to various proposals” that allow them “to construct a more “modern” complicated mathematical formula to distribute these educational funds.” What does modern mean? Does it mean progressive? Or conservative?

This will consist of two meetings open to school personnel and the public. The other two “will include invited school officials and members of the Education Commission of the State, a national organization, who “is the source of comprehensive knowledge and resources of education policy issues.”

The results will be to refine the general conclusions the committee has already made and then the group’s results will be published.

Considering previous “privacy behind closed doors meeting” results, I wonder how much of the public’s input we will see.

Jones served over 20 years in the military, holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Computers and has a master’s degree in Computer Resource Management. He lives in Idaho Falls.