In a recent letter to the editor, Gerry Jennings urged support for the upcoming school levy. After making a suspect claim about class sizes, Jennings regurgitated an even more questionable argument about public education and its relationship to economic development.
“My four children received the best education the state had to offer during the ‘70s and ‘80s. They had choices of classes, some of which don’t exist anymore.
We are losing great teachers who are finding better opportunities elsewhere, and our classrooms are overcrowded. Is that what we want for our kids and teachers?”
Ignoring the fact that class sizes were actually larger in the 70s, Jennings suggested that passing school levies is good for the local economy, and that employers, as a result of recently failed levies, are now steering clear of Great Falls:
“Businesses are finding that potential employers are saying NO to GF, due to lack of support for our public school education.”
Really? OK, which businesses?
Jennings’ argument by implication is that a number of companies, otherwise ready to relocate to and invest in our community, were ultimately deterred from doing so because recent school levies, typically in the $1-2 million range, have at times been rejected by the voters.
Again, though, which business is she talking about?
Jennings, in addition to the many other GFPS cheerleaders who parrot this same political talking point year after year, should tell us unambiguously who said “NO” — for this reason. Is it really true that a spate of entrepreneurs was set to move into River City, but balked only when an operational levy or two fell short? Why didn’t our community’s much more substantial investment in infrastructure (the tenth of a billion dollar school bond) matter to these investors? Are the businesses Jennings talks to of the position that schools must be unquestionably supported 100%? Is it possible that, actually, businesses avoid Great Falls because of high property taxes, and not for a lack of absolute fealty to Tammy Lacey and Tom Moore?
Alternatively, since the Jennings’s of the world are convinced that funding public education is inexorably linked to economic development, a thoughtful person might ponder the inverse of this question: after Great Falls voters generously passed a $100 million bond levy in 2016 — an amount 50-100 times greater than the average operational levy — which new businesses came to Great Falls as a result of this considerable investment? What, exactly, were the measurable impacts? Did an economic renaissance sweep our community without anyone noticing?
Jennings owes us specificity, and so does every School Board candidate who wants to ram yet another permanent tax down our throats, even as we cope with a historically crippling global pandemic.