Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, sent the details of the latest draft of the next public schools budget to all Idaho lawmakers, education leaders, and members of the media Friday afternoon. He called the early release of the details, including a 7.5 percent reduction to schools, unprecedented. Cameron is one of the leaders of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, which writes the state budget. The spending numbers and instructions for how it could be spent reflect meetings with education stakeholders on Feb. 22 and 24.
"This is the culmination of hours of stakeholders group meetings which met this last week and reflects consensus of those stakeholders," Cameron wrote in an e-mail containing the latest draft. He reiterated that the budget is a result of consensus among those at the table. "No item was advanced without consensus. Contrary to one statement we did not threaten to remove anyone’s fingers or appendages." Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, said during Friday's JFAC meeting that the agreement was like education leaders agreeing how they wanted their fingers cut off.
JFAC will set the public schools budget March 1. Other budget proposals besides the brokered agreement may surface during the JFAC meeting. House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said House and Senate Democrats discussed the education budget during a caucus meeting Friday. Democrats could propose an education budget with fewer spending reductions, or changes to where money is appropriated, including salaries, textbooks, or transportation. "We'll work on it over the weekend," said Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum.
Republicans on JFAC could also propose a schools budget with more reductions. Rep. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, said there are ongoing talks on the whole state budget and the schools budget, but said he didn't know if an alternate schools budget is being discussed or prepared.
The draft budget e-mailed by Cameron is identical to one handed out during Friday's JFAC meeting. View that budget sheet here (pdf). The instructions going along with the budget, called the intent language, reflects the budget, including reduced base salaries for teachers, administrators, and other staff. The intent language also includes switching funding for some programs, including some teacher awards, part of school transportation spending, and part of the budget for limited English proficiency programs, to discretionary funding that can be spent by local districts. The 10 percent reduction in funding to the Idaho Math Initiative, Idaho Reading Initiative, and ISAT remediation is mentioned. In the intent language, the Idaho Digital Learning Academy (IDLA), which offers coursework online for high school students, would receive $5 million, the same as in the current schools budget. IDLA had requested a funding increase, due to the rising number of students taking classes from the program. Download the 10 pages of draft intent language here (Microsoft Word document).