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Eye On Boise

Mon., March 23, 2009, 5:42 p.m.

Field trip change is permanent

Legislation that cleared the House Education Committee today would permanently end state funding for field trips and change how school districts are reimbursed for student transportation. The move is designed to save $4.2 million next year; click below to read the full story from AP reporter Sarah Wire.

Sorry ID kids, field trip may be canceled
Associated Press Writer

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The House Education Committee approved a bill Monday to stop reimbursing school districts for field trip costs and to change how school districts are reimbursed for transportation.

Lawmakers said the moves are designed to save the state an estimated $4.2 million in 2010. Unlike other cuts that are tied to the state's current economic situation, the changes made by the bill do not have a designated end date. Proponents of the bill have said they will work to reinstate funding for field trips once Idaho's economic outlook improves.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna has recommended cutting $62 million from the public schools budget for the fiscal year that starts in July. Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter has proposed $109 million in cuts.

The bulk of that money is expected to come from cuts to teacher pay and a one-year freeze on raises.

The transportation bill now goes before the full House. It is expected to move through the Legislature quickly because the state's budget-writing committee plans to begin writing the public education budget March 30.

Jason Hancock, Education Department deputy chief of staff, told the committee that school districts can still schedule field trips, but the state will not reimburse the cost. Not paying for field trips could save the state $2.5 million in 2010.

"Any dollar spent on student transportation is a dollar not going to student education," Hancock said.

He said the measure won't hurt districts financially as long as they don't schedule field trips.

The bill also requires 17 large school districts and 12 charter schools to get state reimbursement based on the number of students bused instead of the distance traveled. Changing the busing reimbursement is expected to save $1.7 million in 2010.

Currently Idaho school districts can choose which reimbursement method they use.

The change would cost the Boise Independent School District $1.4 million next year. The Lewiston Independent District would lose $30,000 up front.

The remaining 15 large districts would have to change their funding model but would not lose money up front.

Janet Orndorff, a Boise Schools trustee, said changing the reimbursement method will force the district to put more children on each bus, which is not safe.

"We understand the difficult times, we understand we need to make cuts, but we need to make sure we make those cuts in the right places," Orndorff said.

Orndorff said the district would prefer to make cuts regarding new classroom supplies and new textbooks.

The bill also reduces how much the state reimburses districts, from 85 percent of transportation costs to 50 percent for all such costs except bus purchases and maintenance.

As an incentive to keep transportation costs down, the difference between 50 percent and 85 percent would be given back to the district through an annual grant. The grant would increase each year based on district growth and whether the district's transportation costs remained below the state average. The excess money could be used however the district wished.

Opponents of the bill, including several education groups, argue that the state should use its rainy day funds to keep from cutting the 2010 budget for public education.

"When is it going to be raining hard enough to use those funds?" asked Rep. Branden Durst, D-Boise. "Seems to me we're going to be waiting for Noah before we tap it. We need it now."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

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Eye On Boise

News, happenings and more from the Idaho Legislature and the state capital.