What would Idaho companies do if they had $ 1.4 billion in windfall? Many would invest it to make their business more profitable for years to come.

Well, Idaho is sitting on a $ 1.4 billion surplus and it has a historic opportunity to invest that money to create greater prosperity for this generation and future generations of Idaho.

There are many ways for legislators to put this surplus to work for our students.

They could start by supporting preschool learning programs to prepare 4-year-olds for kindergarten. Currently, nearly six in ten kindergarten students are not ready to learn to read.

They could provide a full-time kindergarten. Now, full-time kindergarten is only available where clients impose themselves, parents can pay for tuition, or where philanthropy helps.

Money is the biggest obstacle for students to attend college. Let’s use the surplus to create a scholarship endowment to help thousands of students attend college or technical school. The state benefits because workers with post-secondary education earn $ 1 million more over their lifetime than high school graduates alone.

The digital divide that creates an academic disadvantage for thousands of students could be bridged if we created an endowed Student Technology Fund.

Our students are facing a mental health crisis. We could use the surplus funds to hire more mental health professionals and provide the students with the help they need.

We should use the excess dollars to help students recover academically from the COVID crisis. It won’t be cheap or will only take a year.

McKinsey and Company reports, “The fallout from the pandemic threatens to depress the prospects of this generation and restrict their opportunities into adulthood. “

McKinsey says the blow to the U.S. economy could range from $ 128 billion to $ 188 billion each year as the current cohort of students enters the workforce. Obviously Idaho needs to invest in a stimulus package, or our economy will suffer.

Idaho has a chronic shortage of skilled workers, a problem that accelerated during the pandemic as many women left the workforce. Even before COVID, Idaho and its businesses were losing millions of dollars due to lack of child care, according to a report from the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry and the Idaho Association of Young Children.

We could use the surplus to create a child care tax credit that helps working families afford quality child care. Or get companies to help provide child care services to their employees.

I hear the argument: you can’t use the excess money for ongoing programs. Some investments only require money once. Additionally, Idaho has experienced steady budget surpluses, and policymakers have not shied away from using the surplus dollars for their favorite projects.

These investments would save millions of dollars in academic upgrading, incarceration and student social programs. A more educated population would also pay a lot more in taxes, making these investments worthwhile.

The question is, do policymakers have the vision to see how these investments can transform Idaho, and will they seize this historic opportunity?

Rod Gramer is President and CEO of Idaho Business for Education.

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