Jennifer Parkins has been a resident of small-town north Idaho for most of her life, and now she’s using her position as President of the Idaho School Boards Association to give rural and remote Idaho schools a voice.
A few years after joining the Genesee School Board in 2009, Parkins found herself serving a partial term by appointment in the Idaho School Boards Association representing schools in a huge swathe of north-central Idaho. Once she had a taste of leadership at the state level, Parkins said she was eager to rejoin ISBA leadership and make sure rural districts like Genesee were considered as the state legislature considers significant education reforms.
She was told she could either run to become vice-chairwoman and later chairwoman for her region, or she could run for an officer position through the association’s officer corps.
“So I just ran for office in the association and won,” Parkins said with a laugh.
Now in her final months as president, Parkins said she will serve an additional year in leadership under the position of “former president.”
As she prepares to leave the post, she said many of her most prominent efforts as president aligned with the work she has done as a member of Gov. Brad Little’s education task force “Our Kids, Idaho’s Future,” including a push to reform public education funding in the state.
She said Idaho currently decides how much money to allocate for schools based on average daily attendance — which is problematic for a number of reasons. For one thing, students are more mobile than they have been in the past. Rather than spending the day in a school, they may take some public school courses while attending online school or homeschool.
“Alternatively, some students may attend a charter school for the regular school and then come to traditional schools for things like our music or a specific class,” Parkins said. “Under our current funding formula, it’s very difficult to figure out how each school or each school district receives money to educate the students when they’re that mobile.”
Parkins said she and other education stakeholders — teachers, administrators, trustees and parents among others — tend to favor a formula that awards state funds based on total school enrollment. While legislators have repeatedly failed to make progress on this front and stakeholders have struggled to have a voice in the search for a new formula, Parkins said she hasn’t given up hope.
In November, the ISBA will have its annual meeting and the Boise School District has proposed a resolution that would recommend the legislature work directly with the ISBA to develop a formula centered on a set of “critical principals.” The resolution states the funding formula should be adequate, transparent, predictable from year to year and should honor the experience and education of staff.
She said the task force will also finalize its recommendations to lawmakers in November, and many of those would be applauded by stakeholder organizations like the ISBA. This includes encouraging legislators to increase minimum pay for veteran teachers and a recommendation for fully funded all-day kindergarten programming throughout the state.
She said these and other pressing issues will be raised in the coming legislative session and encouraged the public to get involved in the process.
“Seek out how your superintendents, teachers, and school board members need support; ask us what we need, each school district has different needs,” Parkins said to a gathering of the League of Women Voters of Moscow Wednesday. “Continue to advocate to lawmakers for full state funding of public schools — we’re still relying on supplemental levies for our day-to-day needs.”
Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to email@example.com.