In a September 2023 article for ProPublica, produced in partnership with the Idaho Statesman, Becca Savransky reported that Salmon, Idaho’s elementary and middle schools are at serious risk of falling apart and pose physical threats to students.
Despite several attempts to solve the issue, both state and local legislation have left the schools as-is for decades. Children learn in buildings with failing plumbing, kitchens that fill with sewage, and uneven floors. A statewide assessment conducted and funded by the Idaho state legislature discovered that about 10 percent of school buildings are dangerous and need immediate attention.
Districts across the state of Idaho struggled to pass bonds needed for funding their school repairs due to a two-thirds voting requirement. Instead, lawmakers created the Public School Facilities Cooperative Funding Program, a $25 million dollar loan program intended to help the districts. However, the program proved to be difficult to use.
The program required that the school prove their building presented an unreasonable risk of death, serious injury, or health risk to students. If granted a loan, the program required local control of the school to be surrendered for rebuilding and a state official would have complete control of the money for the school and how it would be used.
A member of the Idaho State Board of Education, Mike Rush, admitted the program was purposely designed to be difficult to use, showcasing the serious flaws within the American education system and how intertwined funding is with politics and class.
“Unless an existing school actually falls to the ground and becomes unusable, I don’t perceive them ever passing a bond,” Josh Tolman, a Salmon school board member, told ProPublica.
“Inside the Worst Funded Schools in the Nation,” published by ProPublica in April 2023, explains there was a bill, signed in 2022 by Governor Brad Little, meant to allot $330 million to public school districts across the state of Idaho.
However, the majority of that money went towards increasing teacher salaries and benefits rather than updating and replacing the facilities. Data from World Population Review shows that as of 2023 the state of Idaho spends $8,041 annually per pupil, which is the second lowest amount of per-pupil spending in the United States. Even with a seemingly ample amount of funding being made available to improve students’ learning experience, it is nearly impossible for action to be taken.
As of early October 2023, the story of Salmon, Idaho, has seldom been covered by other publications, aside from a few local sources including an editorial in the Idaho Statesman on September 7, 2023, which was republished by other local outlets and Yahoo! News. The story has not been covered by any corporate news outlet.
The corporate news media’s failure to cover stories such as the case of Salmon further marginalizes thousands of schools across the country in desperate need of assistance. Students need access to an environment that is safe and comfortable, not one that is falling apart.
Becca Savransky, “Collapsing Roofs, Broken Toilets, Flooded Classrooms: Inside the Worst Funded Schools in the Nation,” ProPublica, April 13, 2023.
The Editorial Board, “Time for Another Lawsuit over Idaho’s Terrible School Building Conditions, Idaho Statesman, September 7, 2023.
Student Researchers: Giuliana De Los Santos, Jessica Gould, Gianna Merian, Bhavin Mistry, and Grace Triblets (University of Massachusetts Amherst)
Faculty Evaluators: Allison Butler and Jeewon Chon (University of Massachusetts Amherst)