Posts tagged: school funding
Click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner on today's school budget hearing, in which state schools Superintendent Tom Luna told JFAC he'd rather offset the cuts to teacher salaries called for in his “Students Come First” laws next year than refill a state rainy-day fund for schools. “I'm confident that when we're done, we will have a budget that fully funds all of the elements of the Students Come First education reforms, and keeps teacher salaries equal to what they are today,” Luna told reporters after the budget hearing. He didn't propose reversing this year's shift from salary funds of $14.7 million.
Luna said because two-thirds of Idaho high schools have expressed interest in being among the first third of schools to get new laptop computers for each student under Students Come First, he's convinced there's “overwhelming support that's been developed for this one-to-one program.” With a referendum looming to ask voters if they want to repeal the Students Come First laws, Luna said, “I think when we get to November of this year, the last thing people are going to want to do is go back to what it was before.”
A new report released today shows Idaho has met all 10 goals in a national project to collect and monitor data on student achievement, but the state still needs to improve when it comes to effectively using the information being collected, reports AP reporter Jessie Bonner. Idaho was among the last states to launch a longitudinal data system to track student achievement; it started operating the system last school year amid strenuous complaints from school districts around the state about difficulties with the new system. The state Department of Education says it's gotten better; click below for Bonner's full report.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Public schools chief Tom Luna says education would get about a third of the projected $180 million budget surplus Idaho is expected to carry into the next fiscal year, under a spending plan he's submitting to the governor. Luna told The Associated Press on Wednesday he wants at least $61 million of the surplus to go toward public education in the 2012-2013 school year. Under Luna's budget request, more than $20 million of that extra money would be used to replace funding that would be taken from funding for salaries to pay for new education changes backed by Luna and the governor, such as teacher merit pay. The shifting of money from salaries to pay for classroom technology and pay-for-performance was among the most debated parts of Luna's education changes.
Idaho's state Land Board voted 4-1 this morning to distribute $47.5 million to state endowment beneficiaries including public schools next year, up 2.3 percent overall from this year's distribution of $46.425 million, but with no increase for schools, which would get $31.29 million, identical to this year's level. State schools Supt. Tom Luna cast the lone dissenting vote, prompting a questioning look from Gov. Butch Otter, who's chairing the meeting, as he hadn't spoken against the motion from Attorney General Lawrence Wasden to approve the endowment board's recommendation. “I chose not to rehash my concerns I've expressed before at this time,” Luna said, “seeing it wasn't going to change any votes.” Otter responded, “You're probably right.”
Luna successfully advocated an additional $22 million payment from the endowment to schools the year before last to help ease them through state budget cuts, but the board agreed to that only on a one-time basis. The endowment board's recommendation is based on the state's management formula for the fund, that 5 percent of the permanent balance be distributed to the beneficiaries each year; the largest beneficiary is public schools, while others include the University of Idaho, State Hospital South, the state penitentiary, and other state institutions. That formula would actually result in a small reduction for schools and one other beneficiary next year, but endowment fund investment manager Larry Johnson said there are sufficient reserves to make sticking with at least last year's level “prudent.”
Some of the other endowments have actually exceeded their targets for reserves; in accordance with the state's policy, $28.6 million from those funds' reserves will be transferred into their permanent funds. There's no transfer back for public schools, which now has enough reserves to cover three years of distributions, below the target of five years; all other endowments have five years' worth of reserves. “The recommended distributions and transfers are prudent and achievable, and … they represent an appropriate balance between current beneficiaries and future generations,” Johnson told the Land Board.
The distribution level approved by the Land Board today will now be built into budget requests for 2013 that lawmakers will consider in January.
Here's a link to the full breakout of how much each Idaho school district will get in a one-time payout of discretionary funds, thanks to the state's higher-than-expected state tax revenues for the year; the payouts are required under federal maintenance-of-effort rules attached to earlier stimulus funds. The total, $59.9 million, exceeds the $47 million that state lawmakers cut from public schools in next year's budget, though state officials are warning districts that more cuts still could lie ahead. The highest payout is $7.1 million for the Meridian School District; lowest is $4,216 apiece for two tiny elementary school districts, Arbon and Three Creek. The payouts are based on the number of support units, which is roughly the number of classrooms per district. Boise schools will get $5.1 million; Nampa, $3 million; Coeur d'Alene, $2.1 million; Post Falls, $1.2 million; and Lakeland, $923,261. Many school districts are targeting the one-time funds to cancel planned teacher-furlough days or other budget cuts already ordered.
Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on Idaho's budget-crunched schools looking at a possible $50 million one-time boost in July, no strings attached, if state tax revenues meet projections in the final month of the state's fiscal year that ends June 30. And here's a link to my full story on the dustup over the state's new longitudinal data system for schools, which local school officials around the state say has serious problems, but state schools Supt. Tom Luna says must be in place by September. After Tom Taggart, president-elect of the Idaho Association of School Business Officials and director of business and operations for the Lakeland School District, urged lawmakers today to “slow down” the process so bugs can be worked out, Luna said that's not an option, under strings tied to the $300 million in federal stimulus funds Idaho's accepted in the last few years. “We lost that option when we took the money from the feds – we have a Sept. 30, 2011 deadline,” Luna said. “It's time to meet those commitments.”
The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee is now hearing an update on the new student longitudinal data system, known as ISEE, or Idaho System for Educational Excellence. “The system is pretty well developed now and the department is transitioning off of federal funds,” explained legislative budget analyst Paul Headlee. “It looks like at this time, both the development and maintenance of the system is less than was originally proposed in 2008.” From fiscal years 2009 to 2011, the state has appropriated $8.64 million for development, including a $5.9 million federal grant, and in fiscal year 2012, the state has appropriated $1.09 million for maintenance and operations.
Tom Taggart, president-elect of the Idaho Association of School Business Officials, told the lawmakers, “We want to look forward in what we can do to make this work, without being too negative, but I think part of our message is a dose of reality as to what's going on at the school level with ISEE. We're the nuts and bolts people who are in the business offices in the schools. We like it when things work, and when they don't work we like to find a way to fix them.”
On ISEE, he said, “There's still a lot of concern and frustration. … We're not here to whine, we're not here to put up roadblocks. We don't have any political agenda. We want see this thing work. However to our members it's clear at this point it isn't working for the school districts, and we haven't seen what we'd like to see in response to our concerns.” Trying to get the system to work has placed a “huge burden” on school district staffs, Taggart said. “They are spending hundreds and hundreds of hours. … A lot of time it's like whack-a-mole: You solve this problem and three more pop up over here you have to deal with.”
As a result, he said, “I'm not sure anyone can say exactly how many units are being funded this year, how many teachers are being funded. … Normally at this time, we'd have that information.” That's created uncertainty in setting district budgets, he said. “There's great frustration out there.”
The possible $50 million additional payout of discretionary money to Idaho schools, if state surplus funds hold up in June, will be “very significant,” said JFAC Co-Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. “We were hoping it'll be a little higher,” he said. “It may be the very thing that helps 'em through this tough budget year.”
His co-chair, Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, cautioned, however, “June isn't here yet.” June typically is the fourth-largest month for state tax revenues, and in some past years, she noted, it's brought bad news. Said Cameron, “We'd feel better about June had May been a better number.”
School districts, already facing big cuts, will have full discretion on how they spend the one-time payout of discretionary funds. “They can do whatever they feel they need to do,” Cameron said. “They may buy back furlough days. They may use it toward staffing needs.” Bell said, “This has no strings attached to it at all.” But both Cameron and Bell said they'd encourage them to “be cautious, because we know the next budget may be worse.”
The state budget for schools for next year includes a 1.6 percent cut in salary-based apportionment, the main state funding source for staff salaries for schools, and the following year, that apportionment will be cut by 4.2 percent as part of the new school reform laws, with those funds shifted elsewhere, including to technology investments. “That's already built in in statute,” Cameron said. “From my perspective, they are wise to hang onto it for the following budget year.”
The final numbers aren't in yet, but the latest estimates suggest that, depending on what happens with state tax revenues in June, Idaho school districts and charter schools could get about $50 million in a one-time distribution of discretionary funds to satisfy federal maintenance-of-effort requirements attached to federal stimulus funds Idaho accepted earlier. That would be about $3,587 per support unit; a support unit is a calculation roughly equal to a classroom.
Legislative budget analyst Paul Headlee said under the same requirements, community colleges likely would get about $5.5 million. If there's a negative variance in this year's school funding formula calculations, the amounts to be distributed could drop; if the state collects more than forecast in June, they could go up, and if it collects less than forecast, they could drop.
The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee is gathered for its interim meeting and tour today, starting out at Columbia High School in Nampa. Nampa School District Superintendent Gary Larsen, asked by committee members how he'll cope with state budget cuts and new requirements to shift salary funds to technology, said, “We'll work with what we get. … I'm a little leery about cutting back the workforce more than we have.”
JFAC Co-Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said, “We're not even using the word 'normal' any more in this situation.”
Among those joining the joint legislative budget committee for its meetings this morning are state schools Supt. Tom Luna.
The Meridian School District won't try again this summer on its failed supplemental tax levy request, the Boise Weekly reports, and instead is starting work on cuts including slashing the school year to 14 fewer days than it had two years ago and eliminating 100 teaching jobs. “The taxpayers have spoken,” Meridian Superintendent Linda Clark told Boise Weekly reporter George Prentice. “They expect us to live within the means of state funds and that's what we're going to do.” You can read Prentice's report here.
Here's how much in new property taxes Idahoans have voted on themselves so far this spring to shore up their local schools in the wake of state budget cuts: $77.32 million a year, with most of those levies stretching for two years. There's still another round of levy elections scheduled for August. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
A preliminary report on supplemental levy elections in held in school districts around the state compiled by the Idaho State Department of Education shows that of 36 school districts holding supplemental levy votes on Tuesday, 27 won passage from local voters, while nine failed, including, notably, one in the state's largest school district, Meridian. That means 75 percent passed. The last round of school district supplemental levy votes was on March 8; according to the department's figures, 29 districts held votes then, and 27 passed with just two failing. One of those two, Boundary County, went back to its voters on Tuesday, and this time, they passed the proposed $1.4 million levy.
All told, that means that this spring 65 of Idaho's 115 school districts asked their voters to raise their own property taxes to add to the school district's operating funds, and in 54 of those districts – that's 83 percent – voters said yes.
The moves come as state lawmakers cut state funding for schools for the third straight year, saying they didn't want to raise taxes.
Melissa McGrath, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, said the numbers are preliminary, as the counties still are certifying their election results from Tuesday. “I think it really shows that every community makes its own decision on levies,” she said. “We at the state level do not get involved in local levy elections; we leave it up to the local communities.”
After voters in Idaho's largest school district - Meridian - rejected a two-year, $37 million property tax levy yesterday, the school district is saying it will have to lay off teachers and principals; drop dental and vision coverage for district employees unless they pay for it themselves; and cut as much as 14 days off the school calendar - most of those instructional days - to make $14 million in cuts. Eric Exline, district spokesman, told KBOI-TV the lost school days will mean “that much stuff that kids aren't going to learn.” You can see the KBOI-TV report here and election results here.
Strong tax revenues in April, the biggest month of the year, could mean Idaho's public schools will get up to a $55 million one-time boost at the end of this fiscal year on July 1 - an amount that exceeds the $47 million cut state lawmakers imposed on schools for next year. That wouldn't stop the bleeding - it doesn't reverse the unprecedented $128.5 million in cuts schools took this year, which are continuing next year. But it's a sign that the gloomy revenue assumptions lawmakers used to slash budgets were off. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A dozen teachers in the tiny town of Harrison are the first to sue an Idaho school district over pay and benefits negotiated under financial emergency declarations that started two years ago. The lawsuit against the Kootenai School District was filed Tuesday. The suit claims the district made a decision to worsen their “last best offer” after the deal was extended — and rejected — by teachers and that decision violated the financial emergency statutes. Teachers are guaranteed by state law at least as much money as they earned in the previous year. But lawmakers for the past two years have allowed districts the option of financial emergencies to make cuts to help balance budgets. Attorney John Rumel, general counsel for the Idaho Education Association, says this is the first lawsuit the union has brought on behalf of teachers as the result of financial emergency negotiations in the past two years.
Canceling unpaid furloughs for teachers and other school employees, reversing layoff decisions and adding back school days are among the plans being mulled by North Idaho school districts for their share of the last-minute federal jobs bill money, which is arriving just as school starts. In Coeur d’Alene, reinstating the planned six unpaid furlough days will take up $1.2 million of the district’s $1.8 million share.
The federal aid was welcome news after Idaho lawmakers cut an unprecedented $128 million from the state’s public school budget this year – 7.5 percent – and declared a statewide financial emergency to allow school districts to reopen negotiated teacher contracts and cut pay and benefits. The money could allow districts to reverse up to 40 percent of those cuts, but if they follow the governor’s advice and spread the money over two years, the impact could be less. Read our full story here at spokesman.com.
Yesterday Gov. Butch Otter announced that Idaho will qualify for $51.6 million in federal aid for its ailing schools, and said he’ll apply for the funds, and state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna hailed Otter’s decision in a statement posted here yesterday. Later the same day, Democratic candidate for governor Keith Allred issued a statement saying the decision to apply for the federal funds was a sign that Otter had failed the schools this year; “Otter cut education so severely that even taking the big federal bailout won’t keep our schools whole,” he said. And legislative Democrats sent out a statement urging Otter and Luna to quickly distribute the money to schools to make up the “dramatic and unprecedented cuts that have occurred under Republican leadership in recent years.” Click below to read both their statements.
Idaho’s state Land Board has voted unanimously to set distributions from the state’s permanent endowment to public schools and other endowment beneficiaries for next year at this year’s level, less the special, one-time extra distribution of $22 million to public schools this year. That means overall distributions will be down 32 percent and public school distributions will be down 41.3 percent, dropping from a total of $53.3 million this year to $31.3 million next year. But if you set aside the special $22 million allocation this year, the total distributions actually rise by 0.6 percent.
Gov. Butch Otter asked Larry Johnson, manager of investments for the endowment fund, “Is there any way we can measure the effect of taking that $22 million out? I mean, for historical purposes - we’ve done it. … If we’re tracking it we can look back on it in years to come … know what our overall cost is.” Johnson replied that that will depend on the endowment fund’s earnings. For example, if the fund earns 15 percent, the cost would be 15 percent of $22 million. If the fund were flat, the cost would be zero. Said Otter, “I just think it would be valuable for us to know … what the effect of that was, should we ever be faced with that situation again.”
Johnson submitted pages of charts and analysis from the Endowment Fund Investment Board to the Land Board showing that holding the distributions even, but for the $22 million, would be “prudent” given the various endowment funds’ earnings. Continuing the $22 million in fiscal year 2012, however, would not, he said. In four of the endowments - not the major one, which is for public schools - earnings have actually built up beyond five years’ worth of distributions in the reserve funds, and the investment board recommended a transfer from those funds back into the permanent fund, as prescribed by its investment plan. “The recommended distributions and transfers appear to be achievable and represent an appropriate balance between the interests of current and future beneficiaries,” said the report from the endowment board.
Attorney General Lawrence Wasden made a motion to approve the recommendation, Controller Donna Jones seconded the motion, and the vote was unanimous - including from state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna, who was participating by phone. Luna, who pushed for the $22 million extra distribution for schools this year - and who actually wanted twice that amount - made no comment this time. Idaho’s endowment fund had a 5 percent gain in July, the first month of the fiscal year.
Idaho will qualify for $51.6 million in aid to its hard-hit public schools under the new federal jobs bill, and Gov. Butch Otter has announced that he’ll apply for the money, a decision welcomed by state schools Supt. Tom Luna. Click below to read Otter’s full news release.