The latest draft of the next Idaho public schools budget shows a $128 million reduction from the current school year to the next. That’s a 7.5 percent reduction from the current $1.7 billion mix of state, dedicated, and federal spending. Local property taxes also contribute more than $200 million to schools, but that amount varies among school districts.
“This is a tremendous budget that has to be set,” said Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, one of the chairs of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, which writes the state budget. “This is the first time we’ve had to cut education.”
The latest budget comes from the consensus of meetings between lawmakers and education leaders. Lawmakers on JFAC will set the education budget on Monday. It’s likely that Democrats will propose a larger education budget, while some Republicans will offer a smaller budget. The schools budget includes $1.2 billion in state general funds, which is the majority of the $2.29 billion overall budget.
Bell described the meetings with leaders from the Idaho Education Association, Idaho Association of School Administrators, the Idaho School Boards Association, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna as often contentious meetings that led to a consensus. “There were nods, groans, and gnashing of teeth,” she said.
Luna’s press secretary, Melissa McGrath, confirmed that all sides generally agree on where reductions to education should be made. “It does meet the priorities that the superintendent has been talking about, [including] preserving teacher contact hours and those programs that have the most positive, immediate impact on student achievement,” she said.
As IdahoReporter.com reported Thursday, teachers and classified staff would receive a 4 percent salary reduction and school administrators a 6.5 percent reduction. The budget would also freeze scheduled salary increases based on experience and additional training. Some of Luna’s key programs, including the Idaho Math Initiative, Idaho Reading Initiative, and remediation for ISAT assessment, would see a 10 percent reduction. Budget lines for other programs, including textbooks, technology, and gifted and talented teacher training, would be zeroed out with some funds shifted to local districts, which would have the flexibility on where to spend state money. Even with transferring that money, discretionary money for local funding would drop from $356 million in the current budget to $309 million in the next budget. That amounts to a $3,592 drop in discretionary spending for each classroom unit.
Democrats on JFAC said they wanted to be included in those discussions. Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, appreciated the talks, but said they could be improved. “These are extraordinary times and we normally wouldn’t set the budget this way,” she said. “Should this be necessary in the future, I would hope that we could consider that a member of the minority party be considered in the process.”
Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, said she appreciated that conversations took place, but said she was sad that they only discussed spending reductions to education. “It’s kind of like bringing someone in and saying ‘we’re going to cut off your fingers’ and giving them input into how (they would be removed),” she said.
Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said minority Democrats weren’t included in the talks, which did include members of JFAC and leaders of the House and Senate education committees, because the meeting was more about the education leaders than the lawmakers. “In hindsight, I probably should have invited a member of the minority,” he said.