The Idaho Spending 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.
Bill description: House Bill 788 appropriates $970,112,100 to the Public Schools Educational Support Program’s Division of Children’s Programs for FY23.
Prior to the onset of COVID-19, this budget was about a third of the size it has swollen to in the fiscal year that this bill covers and in the prior fiscal year.
In FY20, the actual spending for the Children’s Program Division was $301.6 million, including $217 million of federal funds. Typically, this budget received about $250 million in federal funds.
Beginning in FY22, this budget increased to over $1 billion. A huge surge of federal funds occurred under the umbrella of COVID-19 relief funds, which sum to $510.9 million, including $404.9 million of ARPA funds and $106 million of other COVID-19 relief funds.
What is troubling is the use of these funds. There is a $74 million line item for a school nutrition program that provides meals to all children regardless of income. This is problematic because it implies that the feeding of children, even children from parents who can afford to feed them, is a responsibility of the school system.
There is another line item that is particularly troubling. This line item is the Literacy Funding, which can be used for all day kindergarten, among other discretionary alternatives like reading coaches. This $46 million line item is in addition to the existing literacy funding of $26 million, bringing the total to over $70 million. This amount is up sharply from the FY19 appropriation of $13 million. Despite spending millions of dollars on this line item, there has been no improvement in literacy achievement among young children in Idaho based on reading indicators. This is an excellent example of throwing more and more money at an intractable problem.
Add to this a $2.3 million line item using ARPA funds for homeless children support. This is an area that historically was a support role for local charities and communities or perhaps Health and Welfare programs.
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