November 13, 2011 in Idaho

Eye on Boise: State revenues fall just shy of predictions

By The Spokesman-Review
 

BOISE – Idaho’s general fund revenues for October are in, and they’re almost exactly on target, missing state economists’ forecast by just 0.7 percent.

At $209.9 million, the month’s tax take is $1.6 million below the $211.4 million forecast. Sales taxes came in $4.1 million below the expected level, but all other categories came in ahead of the forecast. Individual income tax revenues for October were 5.9 percent above October of the previous year; the forecast was for 4.9 percent growth. Sales taxes were up 1.6 percent over the previous October; the forecast had called for 6.3 percent.

For the fiscal year to date, which started July 1, Idaho revenues are very close to the forecast level, falling 1.3 percent below it.

No limit on retries

During the Students Come First school technology task force meeting last week, a new wrinkle emerged as far as the impact on school district finances from Idaho’s new focus on online education. In response to a request from the Boise School District’s business manager about how many times a district will have to pay an online provider if a student fails a course, state Department of Education official Jason Hancock said, “Essentially, right now, if a student is in a brick-and-mortar situation and they take a course and fail it, we still fund the district.”

He said the full payment districts will make to online course providers – two-thirds of the “average daily attendance” funding the district receives from the state for that student for a class period – will be divided into two parts. The first part will be paid upon the student’s enrollment in the online class, and the second only upon the student’s successful completion of the class.

If a student failed, the first payment would be repeated if the student took the class again (it wouldn’t be refunded), and there’s no limit on retries.

Hancock said, “Through putting together statewide contracts with these online course providers, we can actually build into the contract certain performance criteria, so that if students are being unsuccessful in these courses, if these are not high-quality courses and an excessive number of students are failing the course, we can terminate the contract.”

However, the Students Come First school reform law also allows students or parents to choose courses from any approved provider, not just those in the state contracts, and trigger payments from their school district.

Redistricter Andersen dies

Former state Rep. Allen Andersen, D-Pocatello, has died of an apparent heart attack; he was 67 years old. Andersen co-chaired the first Idaho redistricting commission this year. He was a retired high school math teacher and Idaho State University professor, and served one term in the state House of Representatives in 2003-’04.

Takasugi loses cancer fight

Idaho state Rep. Pat Takasugi died last week at a Boise hospital, surrounded by his family, after a three-year fight against appendix cancer. Takasugi, 62, was a second-term Republican from Wilder; he was the director of the state Department of Agriculture from 1996 to 2006, and also a longtime farmer, an Army veteran, a College of Idaho graduate and former chairman of the Canyon County Republican Party. He missed the last legislative session due to his health, and acting Rep. Gayle Batt filled in for him.

Court: Fee really a tax

The Idaho Supreme Court has ruled against the city of Lewiston in a lawsuit challenging the city’s stormwater utility fee as an unconstitutional tax because it wasn’t authorized by the state Legislature.

The lawsuit, brought by the Lewiston School District, Lewis-Clark State College, Nez Perce County, the Port of Lewiston and the Lewiston Orchards Irrigation District, was successful at the district court level, but the city appealed. The high court now has upheld District Judge John Bradbury’s ruling invalidating the fee, in a unanimous decision authored by Justice Warren Jones.

Meth Project expands

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and first lady Lori Otter joined high school students in five classrooms around the state, linked online by the Idaho Education Network, to kick off the next phase of the Idaho Meth Project anti-drug campaign last week. The project is launching a new interactive website and new TV, radio and print ads and billboards in eight states including Idaho, along with mobile and social media campaigns aimed at educating teens about the dangers of methamphetamine use.

Lori Otter told the teens the new website, MethProject.org, is “a resource you can go to that is factual, that lays it out, that does not sugar-coat it.”


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