BOISE - With state education cuts high on Idahoans’ minds as children return to school this fall, Gov. Butch Otter’s Democratic challenger, Keith Allred, has launched a new TV ad criticizing Otter for the cuts.
The ad, which began running Tuesday night across southern Idaho but hasn’t yet launched in the north, includes an image of a troubled Otter looking down at a tall stack of papers; that’s a composite image in which the papers and other elements were added.
“The message in the ad with that image is the evidence stacks up and Otter still does the wrong thing,” said Shea Anderson, Allred’s campaign spokesman.
Otter has maintained the unprecedented cuts, which he called “painful,” were unavoidable.
Here’s a look at the claims in the ad:
CLAIM: In the ad, Allred says, “Butch Otter doesn’t do his homework. He botched the budget and cut education 7 percent, the first cut in Idaho history.”
CONTEXT: Allred has rounded down; this year’s cut in Idaho’s public school budget, from all fund sources, was $128.5 million, or 7.5 percent (the correct figures appear on the screen as Allred speaks). Otter himself has acknowledged the historic nature of the cut, saying it’s the first since at least the 1950s.
Last year, Idaho cut state general funds to schools, which also was historic, by 13.7 percent, but the overall budget for schools actually rose by a tiny amount, 0.4 percent, because of the impact of $145.7 million in federal stimulus money that was pumped into the 2009-2010 school budget. This year’s school budget is a reduction both in state general funds and total funds. Another measure of Idaho’s school funding, discretionary funds to school district per classroom unit, dropped by 14.4 percent, according to the 2010 Idaho Legislative Fiscal Report.
CLAIM: Allred says in the ad, “The result: Too many kids per class. Not enough textbooks or instruction time.”
CONTEXT: The impact of the budget cuts varies by school district, but Idaho districts did report increased class sizes, cuts or delays in textbook purchases, and decreases in instruction time, among other impacts. The Cambridge school district, for example, imposed six unpaid furlough days on teachers and went to a four-day school week; Filer shortened its school year by four days and Buhl by six days; Genesee cut 15 days while lengthening the school day; Parma cut six days from the school year, and Firth cut 10. The Idaho Falls district left teaching positions unfilled, swelling class sizes.
Some of the impacts of the cuts are being mitigated by a last-minute infusion of federal funds aimed at saving teachers’ jobs, but it’s not enough to make up even half this year’s cuts, and Otter is urging schools to spread that money across the next two years.
CLAIM: Allred, in his ad, says, “It didn’t have to happen. I’m Keith Allred. I’ll make cost-effective investments in education without raising taxes. Otter helped special interests and hurt schools. As governor I’ll work for you and them.”
CONTEXT: Allred maintains Idaho could have eliminated tax exemptions for special interests and filled vacant positions at the state Tax Commission to collect more tax money. Otter responds that he’s signed just one tax exemption into law since he’s been governor, and that he successfully proposed a plan to phase in more audit staff at the Tax Commission over several years, while monitoring that the investment pays off. Otter also vetoed a bill in 2008 to eliminate a tax exemption for research activities.
Allred also has contended that Otter and the Legislature estimated tax revenues for the coming year too low, ignoring forecasts from experts and forcing deeper cuts than were necessary; only time will tell on that. So far, in the first two months since the start of the fiscal year July 1, Idaho’s state tax revenues have come in $10.2 million ahead of projections.
OTTER RESPONSE: Otter’s campaign spokesman, Ryan Panitz, had this response to the ad: “We invite our opponent to actually do his own homework and study these facts! Governor Otter put more than $394 million into education to insulate it and put $20 million straight in to the classroom for textbooks, supplies, and important programs to our students. Governor Otter’s initiatives, like the Idaho Education Network, have connected our students to new learning opportunities. In addition, the governor’s new Opportunity Scholarships are providing more chances for our children to go on to college than ever before.”
IMAGES: In addition to the composite image of Otter, the ad features children and Allred in a school classroom. The children are from families of Allred supporters who volunteered to participate in the commercial, Andersen said. The scenes were filmed on a weekend at a Boise elementary school, with the permission of the principal.