Consensus legislation allowing unprecedented cuts in public school funding in Idaho has passed the House on a 69-0 vote. House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, sponsor of HB 252, called the bill “a piece of work that a lot of people spent a lot of hard hours on.” It suspends an array of state laws - including one requiring that teachers be paid at least what they were the year before - in the case of a declared financial emergency in a school district. Such declarations could last for only one year. “By the time it possibly could be signed, some districts could be weeks if not days away from declaring a financial emergency this year,” Nonini told the House.
State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna has called for up to $62 million in cuts in public schools next year; Gov. Butch Otter is calling for about $110 million in cuts. The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee is scheduled to set the public schools budget this Friday. If, as anticipated, cuts are approved, it’d be a first for Idaho - lawmakers haven’t set a budget for public schools that was less than schools received the previous year in recorded history. Rep. Liz Chavez, D-Lewiston, called the bill “the result of a collaborative effort … (on) how best to meet the educational needs of the children of Idaho.” Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding, said the bill was “very carefully crafted.” She said, “It does give tools to our local school districts and our local education associations, and without these tools they really couldn’t deal with these economic emergencies, especially at the local level. … They can adjust to the conditions that exist in that particular district.”