During its all-day meeting today, the Legislature's K-12 Educational System Interim Committee invited representatives of three key stakeholder groups - the state’s school boards association, school administrators association and teachers union - to share what they see as the most pressing challenges and needs. All said funding, in the wake of steep budget cuts since 2009. The state budget now allocates only $20,000 per classroom for operational costs; in 2009, it was $25,696. Schools have lost $82.5 million a year in state funding.
Rob Winslow, executive director of the Idaho Association of School Administrators, said districts have had to make “a lot of significant cuts,” including cutting days from the school year and trimming teacher numbers. “Class sizes that used to be, 30 would seem high – now we’re seeing it’s not that uncommon to start seeing class sizes in the 40s, which is a big problem,” he said. “Our No. 1 area that we really would like to see addressed is that restoration of operational funding.”
Jessica Harrison, director of policy and government affairs for the Idaho School Boards Association, agreed. Costs are rising even as funding has been dropping, she said. “All districts are facing the challenge of the increasing cost of mandatory expenditures,” she said, from insurance to utilities to school supplies. “There is only so far it can go.”
Penni Cyr, president of the Idaho Education Association, noted the increase in successful local property tax override votes for school funding. “Idaho citizens want great public schools, and if the Legislature is unable to put money into their local schools, the electorate will either vote taxes upon themselves … or the system will suffer, and parents, students and educators will flee for better, more supportive systems.” She said many Idaho teachers continue to leave the profession. “It’s frustrating to me that once again I have to report to you that the departures continue at historic levels.”