BOISE – Idaho’s public schools would see a $47 million cut in funding next year under a budget set by lawmakers Monday. That’s considerably less than the $62 million cut lawmakers had been pondering, but it still would spell a decline in state funding for all school employees’ salaries.
The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee set the budget in a series of divided but lopsided votes, with all four of the panel’s Democrats opposing each piece of the budget and several committee Republicans joining them on some of its most important pieces. Among them: Teacher pay cuts, and a 10 percent cut in discretionary funds per classroom to school districts, which already saw those funds cut 14.4 percent this year.
The budget still must pass the House and Senate and receive the governor’s signature to become law, but budget bills rarely are changed after they’re set by the joint committee. It totals $1.224 billion in state general funds, which is $9.3 million more than this year’s budget. In total funds, however, – which also includes federal money and dedicated funds such as proceeds from state endowment lands – the schools budget equals $1.6 billion, a nearly 3 percent drop from this year’s level.
Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, who voted against the measures, said, “I think that there was money that could have been added from various sources that we left laying on the table.” She said, “We’re going to see our long-term teachers leave and retire, and we’re going to see a lot fewer new teachers taking up the profession.”
The schools budget includes all the changes to Idaho’s school funding system envisioned in three reform bills pushed by state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna, including cutting into salary funds to pay for new technology.
The budget has $15 million more in it than lawmakers had been targeting all session, thanks to additional funds picked up at the state Tax Commission by adding new auditors to collect already due but unpaid taxes.
Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, who voted for the budget, said she helped get the extra money into the budget, “so that was my part of the deal. I would’ve felt better about it if the ‘Three Pillars’ hadn’t passed, because I truly believe these bills will hurt school districts and local taxpayers, and I do believe we are trading laptops for teachers.”
The “Three Pillars” is the nickname Luna has given the components of his school reform plan.
Luna said of the newly set budget, “It’s considerably better than what we were anticipating and talking about before the Legislature came to town, but it’s still the third year in a row where schools are going to receive less money.”
The budget calls for a 1.87 percent pay cut for teachers, administrators and classified staff in the base salaries funded by the state. Part of that comes from a $14.8 million reduction in salary funds to cover technology investments required under Luna’s third school reform bill, Senate Bill 1184, and the rest from an additional $13.3 million cut designed to help balance the budget and meet the bottom line. The overall budget is $12 million below the governor’s recommendation for public schools for next year.
Among other North Idaho members of JFAC, Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, voted in favor of the budget, while Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, opposed it.