Idaho lawmakers are taking two additional days to look over the next public schools budget, which is likely to see a 7.5 percent reduction. It would be the first decrease in state school funding in Idaho history. The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committeee was scheduled to set the schools budget Monday, but it has been delayed until Wednesday so that all state legislators can review the proposed lower spending plan.
“We now have a committee of 105,” said JFAC co-chair Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome. She said lawmakers all have more time to look over the budget. “Everybody has an opportunity to look it over and grow to love it.” She added that the smaller school budget is necessary because of reduced revenues. K-12 schools won’t be held harmless, but she said JFAC is working to minimize the pain of the reductions. “This is a process where we’re trying not to lose any school teachers, any educators.”
The House and Senate education committees will use the extra time to look over the budgets and perhaps propose additional changes to state law to help schools deal with less funding, according to Bell. She said additional revenue to fund schools, such as raising the state sales tax, remain off the table. The education budget up for discussion is based on meetings with education leaders. One change made to that budget over the weekend is the elimination of the early retirement incentive for teachers, which could save $1 million from the state general fund.
Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said delaying the schools budget could delay the entire budget setting schedule. “It may slow us down a day or two,” he said. “By postponing it, we may affect the overall budget, but I think we’ll be OK.” He added that education leaders have been notified of the delay. The Idaho School Boards Association had asked for the budget as early as possible.
Additional school budgets could be proposed at the Wednesday. Moscow Democratic Rep. Shirley Ringo said Democrats are still discussing their options. “We’re just getting our arms around the scenario,” she said.
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