There’s a what-if question being debated in Idaho politics that matters quite a bit: What if voters in November reject Propositions 1, 2 and 3, repealing state Superintendent Tom Luna’s Students Come First school reform laws? The laws, passed in 2011, already are being phased in.
Here's how the process would work: If the three measures are defeated, much of the $60.5 million now tabbed for laptop computers, teacher merit-pay bonuses, tech upgrades and other Students Come First reforms in the current year would sit unallocated within the public school budget. Some would be used to reinstate programs the laws eliminated, such as a 99 percent funding “floor” for school districts that lose large numbers of students from one year to the next, and a $14.8 million allocation to teacher and administrator salaries. If lawmakers took no further action, the remaining money, roughly $33 million, would flow into Idaho’s public education stabilization fund, a state savings account for schools, at the end of the school year.
But when the Legislature convenes in January, it could redirect those funds through a supplemental appropriation rather than just let them sit all year. If lawmakers sent the money out as discretionary funds to school districts, districts would decide how to spend it. The portion of Idaho’s public school budget that goes out to districts as discretionary funds has been sharply cut in recent years. Legislative budget analyst Paul Headlee, asked about the process, said: “They could do that. They could put it into salaries. They could even take it out of the public schools budget and put it somewhere else in the state budget.”
You can read my full Sunday column here, including what both sides are saying about the what-if question, and what it portends. With GOP nominee Mitt Romney all but guaranteed to carry Republican-dominated Idaho, the presidential race is far from the hottest thing on Idaho’s general election ballot – instead, it’s the school laws.