The Senate has voted 34-1 for legislation to provide a “safety net” to Idaho school districts that will lose out if Congress doesn’t reauthorize so-called “Craig-Wyden” timber replacement funds. Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said any congressional action, if it takes place, likely wouldn’t get school districts money until June, but they have to set their budgets now. “This provides a safety net,” Keough told the Senate. The bill, HB 532, would dip into the public school stabilization fund, which now contains $111 million, to pay Idaho school districts 70 percent of their lost federal Craig-Wyden payments in the coming year, or $4.3 million. It would scale back the payments in the following three years, to 55 percent or $3.4 million, then 40 percent or $2.5 million, and then 25 percent or $1.5 million. After that, the state payments would drop to zero. If federal funds are authorized, the districts would return the state money.
Keough said the fund earned $5 million in interest this year. “We can do this, senators, we can do this and help those schools. We can be a backstop,” she said, adding that her “preference” is that the federal government manage forests better so they’d be more productive and provide payments to schools. “Our school districts are hurting and we need to stand up and help them through this crisis,” Keough told the Senate.
Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, said the money should come from the state’s general fund, not from the school stabilization fund, which is a backup for if student population estimates are exceeded, but other senators disagreed and said the fund is the appropriate source. Said Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, “The fund, in my mind, is to protect public schools and public schoolchildren. Without this safeguard, public schools would have to lay off teachers and children would have to go without an adequate education.” The bill now goes to Gov. Butch Otter.