After all that debate, all those motions, and all those numbers, here’s what the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee decided this morning on the public schools budget: They set it at $1.37 billion in state general funds, a 5.9 percent increase over this year’s budget. That’s only very slightly more than the 5.5 percent increase Gov. Butch Otter recommended, and well under the 7 percent increase new Supt. Tom Luna sought to $1.38 billion.
Yet, Luna was happy, saying he got “99.9 percent” of what he wanted. The reason? The forecast of the number of students who will show up at Idaho’s public schools next year has been lowered by 50 support units, or 50 classrooms worth of students. That means the same money will go a little further, assuming that projection is correct.
Given that as a bottom line, budget writers were able to fund most of the line items Luna requested, including most of his “classroom enhancement package” to put extra money into specific items including textbook purchases, classroom supplies, and remediation for students who repeatedly fail the ISAT, the Idaho Standards Achievement Test. His plan to pay tuition for all high school juniors and seniors who pass the ISAT to take college classes while they’re still attending high school, however, was nixed.
Luna said, “We ended up with about 99.9 percent of what we asked for, so considering years past, I think this is a great day for education, for the children of Idaho and for the people of Idaho. This is what happens when people are working together.”
If the forecast proves too low, Idaho would tap into its school budget stabilization fund to make up the difference. That fund now has more than $100 million sitting in reserve.