House Bill 221 – Public school support, operations

Fred Birnbaum House budget bills 2019

The Idaho Budget Index examines appropriation bills on several fronts to add important context to lawmakers’ discussions as they are considered on the floor of the House and Senate. Among the issues we look at in drawing a conclusion about a budget:

Does the agency requesting these funds serve a proper role of government? Has wasteful or duplicative spending been identified within the agency, and if so, has that spending been eliminated or corrected? Does the budget examine existing spending to look for opportunities to contain spending, e.g., through a base reduction? If there is a maintenance budget, is that maintenance budget appropriate? Are the line items appropriate in type and size, and are they absolutely necessary for serving the public? Does the budget contemplate the addition of new employees or programs? Does the appropriation increase dependency on the federal government?

Our analysis is intended to provide lawmakers and their constituents with a frame of reference for conservative budgeting, by summarizing whether appropriation measures contain items that are sincerely objectionable or sincerely supportable.

Analysis: 

The operations division is one of the seven divisions in the K-12 budget and it provides funding for school districts for pupil transportation, salaries, and benefits for staff, technology and discretionary funds for educational support services or operations.

There is no base budget reduction and maintenance includes more money some of which is for more support units and some is simply spending growth. The maintenance increase is 2.5 percent in overall general and dedicated funds compared to the prior year.

Two lines items were added by Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee that were not recommended by the governor. One line item added additional funding for health insurance and the other additional discretionary money to be used for items such as utilities and personnel costs. The problem with increasing discretionary costs at 3 percent simply due to a Consumer Price Index going up 2.9 percent is that it provides no incentive for school administrators to budget more efficiently.

The discretionary increase for health insurance, at $7.5 million, does not incentivize schools to save on health care costs because it makes them whole for the entire anticipated increases. Some districts provide 100 percent premium coverage to teachers, ensuring that taxpayers cover these costs and by providing this discretionary appropriation, JFAC is essentially shielding districts and teachers from health insurance cost increases borne by ordinary taxpayers.

This budget contains large spending line items that were added by JFAC during their budget process. JFAC’s line items added $14.6 million in discretionary spending not recommended by the governor. In particular the $7.1 million in “additional discretionary spending,” simply pads school district budgets by providing districts with money not tied to particular outcomes or efficiencies.

Final score: (-1)