If you like the notion of misery loves company, an Idaho education panel received a heartening message from other statehouses—they are going through the same budget woes and tough choices for funding education.
“States are definitely struggling with the same things you’re doing,” said Julie Bell, the education program director for the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). “Revenues continue to fall below expectations. They will continue to be anemic for the next few years.” She said states would see a 12-18 month lag after the economy turns around before tax revenues pick up. “It’s serious. It’s unprecedented … All of the states are in the same predicament that you are.”
Bell said states are running out of ways to shield public schools from cuts. “I’m not sure that there’s anything innovative left to talk about,” she said. She listed familiar reductions, including layoffs, furloughs, and salary freezes, as well as ones that have gotten less discussion at the Capitol, such as shortening the school year. Bell also said other states are looking for additional revenue. “Most states have tapped about everything they can,” she said. Other states have expanded their lottery and gambling and looked at taxing soda and other special goods.
Higher education takes the brunt of cuts, according to Bell, but there have been some reforms, including trying to fund programs that help students get a degree more quickly. “I think it’s a really exciting way for legislators to gain back some of the accountability for higher education,” she said.
Besides budget woes, Bell also told the Senate Education Committee that other states are working on reducing the school dropout rate and increasing early learning and school readiness.
The NCSL is a bipartisan organization that offers research to legislators in statehouses across the U.S. Bell left Idaho lawmakers with several reports and papers on education issues other states are facing.
Idaho public schools are facing a 3.7 percent across-the-board reduction as well as some targeted reductions in the current education budget from Tom Luna, Idaho public schools superintendent.
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