BOISE - Deep, historic cuts in public school funding in Idaho won a strong vote for passage in the Idaho Senate on Monday, with many senators warning that rejection of the plan would only mean an even skinnier budget for schools for next year.
“It isn’t going to get any better if this one doesn’t go through,” Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, cautioned the Senate, which debated the bill for two hours before passing it on a 27-8 vote.
“We’re not the only state in this mess,” Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, told senators. “This is not an Idaho problem, this is a national problem. … Our job is to balance our budget, meet the Constitution and get us through it.”
The budget bill, which now moves to the House, would gives schools $1.214 billion in state general funds next year - a 1.4 percent decrease from this year in actual numbers, but effectively an 8.4 percent drop due to the removal of federal stimulus money that previously subbed in for general funds - and $1.58 billion in total funds, an overall 7.5 percent drop. That’s an overall decrease of $128.5 million.
“It is not the number that I would prefer,” Cameron told the Senate. “It is certainly not the number that I know most of you would prefer.”
Senate Democrats argued passionately against the bill, and attempted unsuccessfully to amend it to add another $35 million and remove a clause declaring a statewide financial emergency and allowing school districts to reopen negotiated teacher contracts if needed.
“I think that this bill before us comes perilously close to abdicating our constitutional obligation towards the school children of Idaho,” declared Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise. “We cannot pretend that this budget won’t hurt student performance - it will. This budget will hurt Idaho’s schoolchildren. It’s a sad day today.”
The budget cuts state funding for salaries for teachers and classified staff by 4 percent, and for school administrators by 6.5 percent. It also saves another $10 million by eliminating raises that teachers otherwise would have gotten next year for attaining additional education or experience.
Actual salaries vary and are set by local school boards, but the state’s appropriation is most of what school districts get - especially since lawmakers in 2006 eliminated the basic local property tax levy for school operations.
Goedde said he’s still holding out hope that Congress will approve a jobs bill by late spring or summer that could send another $117 million over two years to Idaho schools. If that happened, he said, it’d likely mean a special session to reverse some of the cuts senators approved on Monday.
“Sixty million dollars would go a long way toward plugging the holes that we’ve made,” Goedde said.
Click here to comment on this story »