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Funds Approved For Drug Program, Not Teacher Raises Budget Committee Earmarks Cash For Drug Abuse Prevention

School districts won’t have to cut their substance-abuse prevention programs next year under the budget set Tuesday by the Legislature’s budget committee.

But it’ll be up to local school districts with plans to raise salaries to decide how to pay for them. State funding for those raises was not included in the budget.

The committee earmarked a small chunk of state tax money to help districts fund $7 million in drug programs in the coming year, but it warned that a longer-term solution is needed.

“This just gives us assurances that the schools can continue the programs they have,” said Rep. Ron Black, R-Twin Falls.

The committee was able to target money toward the programs without changing the total general fund budget Gov. Phil Batt had recommended for public schools.

That’s because it voted to untie the strings on $9.6 million that Batt had earmarked for a 1.5 percent increase in base salaries for all school employees.

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee voted to move that money into the pot of discretionary funding school districts receive on a per-classroom basis for operating schools.

Rep. Bob Geddes, R-Preston, committee co-chairman, tried to tie up $3 million of that money with a directive that it go to teacher and classroom supplies, books and physical improvements, but his motion died on a 10-10 vote.

Rep. Don Pischner, R-Coeur d’Alene, said he was glad the $9.6 million was moved into the no-strings-attached category.

“I think it’s good to get that money to the local districts and let them decide what they want to do with it,” Pischner said later. “If they want to use it for pay increases, it’s their choice.”

The committee dipped into the $9.6 million to earmark $500,000 for substance-abuse prevention programs. That’s because just $6.5 million, $500,000 less than this year’s funding level, will be available for the programs next year from cigarette taxes.

A special dime-a-pack cigarette tax was enacted in 1994 to fund the prevention programs. But a year later, the Legislature voted to split the proceeds from the special tax evenly between schools and county juvenile probation programs, to help new juvenile corrections programs get off the ground. The split was to last just two years.

Because $7 million had been collected the first year of the tax and not appropriated, the schools drew from that $7 million pot to bring their spending each of the two years back up to the full $7 million.

Now the Juvenile Corrections Department wants the split to become permanent, and the Legislature is leaning that way. The schools have just $1.8 million of their first-year money left to supplement next year’s cigarette tax funds. In fiscal 1999, there won’t be any left, and the programs will have a shortfall of more than $2 million.

“I think it’s going to be a year-to-year thing with this Juvenile Corrections drain,” Pischner said. “It’s a tremendous amount of money that we’re spending.”

The committee rejected Geddes’ attempt to cut the overall general-fund budget for schools by $5 million. “It’s just my intention to look ahead a little bit and make sure we’re covering the possibility of less revenue, future floods,” Geddes said.

Pischner, the committee’s only Panhandle member, opposed the move, which died on an 8-12 vote. The committee then voted 15-5 for Black’s proposal to stick with the governor’s figure.

“I’m a strong supporter of education,” Pischner said, “so I guess if I start hammering away at them financially, I wouldn’t be supporting what I believe in.”

Even the $705 million figure is a bare-bones budget, warned Sen. John Hansen, R-Idaho Falls.

If you take out amounts for increased enrollment and transportation costs, it amounts to barely any increase, Hansen said. He called the budget “barely tolerable.”

, DataTimes


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