Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna announced Monday that the state will apply for $51 million in aid from the federal government intended to shore up education funding in the state. The money comes from a $26 billion piece of legislation passed by the United States Congress last week, which also included funding for state Medicaid programs.
In a statement issued on the Idaho State Department of Education's blog, Otter said that he is hesitant to take the money, but that he knows the money will aid local school districts, which will ultimately decide how funds are utilized, with some strings attached by Congress. Here's Otter's full statement on the issue:
While I am leery about Congress continuing to spend beyond our grandchildren’s means, I realize that Idaho schoolchildren will be repaying this debt no matter what decision I make today. So I’ve decided to apply for an additional $51.6 million in one-time federal funds for Idaho’s public schools. I believe that any additional revenue, including this funding made available by Congress, should go straight into our classrooms to preserve student-teacher contact time by reducing furloughs and other local measures that have been taken. I also join Superintendent Luna in encouraging local school districts to use this additional funding over two budget years while we maintain our focus on making progress toward economic recovery. Funding for public schools remains one of our highest priorities for state government. The Legislature and I have put the largest percentage of General Fund dollars into K-12 education since 1989. With today’s decision I have directed more than $445 million in additional resources to public schools since 2009 to minimize the impact of state budget cuts. Over this same period, the unprecedented revenue decline has resulted in cutting the rest of state government by 19.5 percent.
Luna seemed more excited about the money than Otter. Luna, who advocated for millions of dollars from the state's reserve accounts for public education earlier this year, said that the federal money will aid Idaho teachers giving a quality education to students in the state. Here's Luna's full statement:
This is great news for Idaho students and teachers. I’m pleased the Governor supports applying for the federal Education Jobs funding for Idaho schools. As State Superintendent, I have strived to find additional sources of revenue to help keep student achievement moving forward in Idaho schools while not increasing our deficit in this tough economic time. This additional funding will help Idaho schools maintain one of my key priorities: preserving student-teacher contact time.
Districts are not free to use funds without limitations, however. The bill approved by Congress outlines that federal dollars can be used to pay the salaries and benefits of teachers, but cannot be used to fund rainy day accounts, pay for district-level administration, or higher education. Districts can use the money to eliminate furlough days, which many teachers have been facing as districts sought to save money without cutting teaching positions. Officials believe that states could start receiving money within 45 days. Schools districts will have 27 months to spend the funds, allowing some flexibility for local officials.
Legislative Democrats called on Otter and Luna to act swiftly with federal funds and slammed the Republican majorities in the Idaho House and Senate for cutting $128 million from education during the 2010 session. “We encourage Otter and Luna to quickly distribute these federal funds to our school districts to minimize the damage caused by the dramatic and unprecedented cuts that have occurred under Republican leadership in recent years,” said Lewiston Rep. John Rusche, who serves as the House minority leader. Rusche’s counterpart in the Senate said that Democrats stand ready to work with Republicans to improved education in the state. “As we face the beginning of a new school year, parents and students are beginning to feel the impact that massive budget cuts have had on our children’s educational opportunities,” said Boise Sen. Kate Kelly, the Senate minority leader. “State leaders should be fully prepared to take advantage of this unexpected opportunity to invest in the next generation of Idahoans. We will work with our Republican colleagues to get these resources into the classroom as soon as possible where it will do the most good.”