House Bill 222 – Public schools, children’s programs

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 Division of Children’s Programs includes programs that provide direct educational or material benefits to children, where funding does not primarily go to paying certificated teachers and administrators.

The maintenance increase is 1.75 percent in this budget, no base reduction.

This budget includes a line item for “Literacy Proficiency.” Given that literacy should be a core component of what public schools do, adding another line item in discretionary spending for a core function is an admission of failure. Recall that for the 1999 legislative session, then Gov. Dirk Kempthorne requested more than $5 million for the Idaho Reading Initiative with the goal of having 90 percent of students reading at grade level by the third grade. Last fall, only 52 percent of third graders were reading at grade level.

The line item for literacy proficiency is $13.2 million, but this comes on top of the $13 million currently appropriated for literacy proficiency, which would take the total amount to $26 million. During the 2016-17 school year, the funding was just over $11 million.

The General Fund increase for this budget is 28.2 percent over the prior year and the dedicated fund increase is 78.4 percent increase over the prior year.

While there is no increase in federal funds, this budget is comprised of 76 percent federal funds, making a significant component of the children’s programs division budget reliant on decision-makers in Washington, D.C.

The Legislature should reconsider this budget as simply doubling the funding for the literacy program masks key deficiencies in the K-12 educational process. This appears to be a case of throwing more money at an intractable problem.

Final score: (-1)