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Some members of Idaho’s State Board of Education, meeting today in Lewiston, were sharply critical of state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna’s proposal for a 5.9 percent funding increase for public schools next year, Clark Corbin of Idaho EdNews reports, with board member Bill Goesling terming it “unacceptable” and saying it would come at the expense of the state’s colleges and universities. “I think at some point the board is going to have stand up and say, ‘This is not going to work for higher education,’ ” Goesling said.
The public school budget proposal is aimed at phasing in the recommendations of a 31-member education reform task force that included four state board members. It doesn’t address higher ed funding.
State Board member Milford Terrell said, “The fact is these numbers are staggering when you look at where we are going and what we are doing and who is going to be robbed in this whole spectrum of moneys.” But member Richard Westerberg, who headed the task force, responded, “I don’t think anyone on the board or in the room would argue that we have adequately funded K-12 education.” You can read Corbin’s full report here.
Legislative budget writers are hearing a presentation this morning on the education stakeholders task force recommendations, which have been endorsed by Gov. Butch Otter and state schools Superintendent Tom Luna. “If the recommendations were implemented today, it’s a range of $346 million to $406 million dollars” in fiscal impact to the state, legislative budget analyst Paul Headlee told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. That estimate is for the minimum costs. Some of the 20 recommendations from the task force wouldn’t require more state spending, such as moving to a “mastery-based” system for advancing students from one grade to the next; enhancing pre-service teaching opportunities; and adopting new teacher preparation recommendations.
The priciest items on the list: $82 million to restore operational funds cut from the schools during the state’s economic downturn, and $252 million for a new career ladder system for paying teachers, which would include substantially boosting pay and shifting to a three-tiered professional licensing system. Luna this week unveiled his budget request for next year, which seeks to phase in the proposals over the next five to six years.
Headlee noted that the career ladder recommendation, if phased in over six years as recommended, would cost $42 million next year, split into $26 million for the first year of the new ladder, and $15.9 million for leadership awards. That’s roughly equivalent to a 3.7 percent increase in teacher pay overall next year for the career ladder changes, and another 2.2 percent from the leadership awards. You can see Headlee’s full presentation here.
“Within this model, an instructor could conceivably move backwards, if their evaluation shows they’re not achieving,” Headlee said, or if they move backwards on the licensure tiers. “So the ladder possibly could move both ways. There’s more detail that needs to be worked out on this.”
As far as the operational funding, Headlee noted that the cost to restore the funds – which are apportioned out to school districts through a per-classroom formula – will rise each year. Those funds have dropped from nearly $25,700 per classroom unit before the recession to just $20,000 this year. The $82 million figure is how much the restoration would cost this year. Next year, projections show there will be about 82 more classrooms, pushing the cost up to about $84 million. If the restoration is phased over five years, the cost would be about $115 million.
Overall, funding all the task force recommendations would require an increase in Idaho’s public school budget of between 26.5 and 31.1 percent, Headlee calculated.
The Idaho Legislature’s K-12 Educational System Interim Committee heard sharply differing views this afternoon on how three controversial teacher contract bills have been working since lawmakers passed them on a temporary, one-year basis this year, and what should be done about them next year. The Idaho Education Association requested that two of the three, SB 1040a, allowing teachers’ pay and contract days to be reduced from one year to the next at a school district’s option, and SB 1147a, limiting all terms in master agreements (contracts between school districts and teachers' unions) to one year only, be allowed to expire. They asked for some modifications to the third bill, HB 261, which governs teacher layoffs.
By contrast, the Idaho School Boards Association and the Idaho School Administrators Association requested that the “sunset,” or expiration clause, be removed from all three bills, making them permanent. All re-enact some provisions from the voter-repealed “Students Come First” reform laws, which rolled back teacher contract rights.
Paul Stark, general counsel for the IEA, said SB 1040a has been “abused,” and a dozen Pocatello teachers have seen their contract days cut without the requirements of the law even being followed. “We don’t believe that that’s how we should treat teachers,” he told the lawmakers. “Frankly, with this law, the pendulum has swung way too far the other way. … We have proven through the governor’s task force and we have proven to the citizens of Idaho that the stakeholders can work together. … So our request is please, let us work on this, and we can find a better solution that fits everybody’s needs.”
But Anne Ritter, president of the Meridian School Board, asked the lawmakers to drop the sunsets from all three bills – and also re-enact another controversial Students Come First provision allowing school districts to unilaterally impose contract terms if they haven’t reached contract agreements with teachers by a mid-June deadline. She said her district, the state’s largest, still hasn’t reached an agreement with its teachers, and is facing a financial crunch that’s forced teacher layoffs and large cuts in the number of school days. “Districts have all made difficult decisions during these challenging financial times,” she told the interim committee. “We need the Legislature to revisit the contract laws to make it possible for school boards to plan appropriately and balance their budgets. … The financial condition of school districts around the state is really at risk.”
Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said he’s concerned that Idaho school districts’ financial situation, and an increasing reliance on short-term supplemental tax override levies, has made it difficult to evaluate data on how well the three temporary laws are working. “I don’t think that that’s a good environment to use to set policy,” he said. Goedde suggested considering another one-year extension to allow more examination of the three laws’ effects.
Karen Echeverria, executive director of the School Boards Association, said she didn’t know how her group would view such a prospect; Penni Cyr, IEA president, said hers would be open to the idea. The joint legislative committee meets again in November, and may meet in December as well; it’s due to report back to lawmakers, who convene their session in January.
State school Superintendent Tom Luna told the Meridian Chamber of Commerce today that he endorses “every one” of the 20 recommendations of an education stakeholders task force appointed by Gov. Butch Otter, and has built his budget request for public schools for next year to match them – including a request for a 5.9 percent, $77 million increase in state general funds. “Taken together they will fundamentally transform our education system in Idaho for the better,” Luna said. “They’re all important.”
Luna said he agrees with Otter that the reforms will cost between $350 million and $400 million a year in new money, and that they must be phased in over several years. “While this budget only addresses one fiscal year, I believe it sets us up for a fiscally sound structure for funding the task force recommendations over multiple years,” he said.
Luna’s budget proposal calls for spending $42 million next year for the first phase of a new teacher career ladder, a proposal that will cost $250 million over six years and eventually boost Idaho’s starting teacher pay to $40,000, a third higher than it is now. The plan also would establish a new three-tiered professional licensing system for teachers, with the second tier eventually starting at $50,000 a year, and the top tier at $60,000. The proposal for next year, he said, is “a major step in transforming the way we pay Idaho’s teachers so as a state we can attract great teachers and retain the ones that we already have.”
Luna’s proposal also includes $13.4 million for school technology next year; $5.64 million for new opportunities for high school juniors and seniors to take advanced courses; and $16.5 million for the first installment of restoring $82.5 million in operating funds that have been cut from Idaho’s schools during the state’s economic downturn. The task force suggested phasing in the restoration over five years.
Luna’s budget request totals $1.3779 billion in state general funds, up from this year’s $1.3008 billion figure. He told the crowd of 80-plus at the Meridian Chamber luncheon that he wants input on the proposal, from everyone – parents, teachers, business people, and more, and is open to making changes. He noted that the Legislature won’t convene for three months, and then it’ll debate for another three. He called his proposal “the beginning of a conversation.”
After his talk, Luna said he’s had “a very positive reception” from legislators, education stakeholders and others to his plan, which anticipates a substantial funding increase for schools not only next year, but likely each year for the next six. Luna said that's what it would take to accomplish the task force's plan. “I think that people are really focused on finding a way to make these recommendations a reality.”
There are 81 Idaho schools in the running for $3 million in new technology pilot program grants, Idaho Education News reported. All the applications put together total nearly $19.5 million. The State Department of Education plans to announce the winners by July 1; you can read a full report here from Idaho EdNews reporter Clark Corbin.
A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Idaho’s school funding system, in part because families are charged fees for various aspects of instruction, has suffered a major blow, after District Judge Richard Greenwood on Friday dismissed all but one school district from the suit, and said parents who object to fees in their districts could just file actions in small-claims court. Reporter Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News has a full report here. Russ Joki, the lead plaintiff, told Richert, “This is not a solution at all, and makes a mockery of the right to a free public education.”
Joki, a former Nampa School District superintendent, contended that fees he was required to pay for his grandchildren’s education violated the state Constitution, which requires the state to provide a system of free, common schools. Greenwood’s ruling dismissed 65 school districts from the lawsuit, leaving only the Meridian School District, to which two of the plaintiffs, including Joki, had directly paid fees. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.
A recent report by the non-partisan research organization Center on Budget Policy and Priorities says education cuts in Idaho have been among the deepest in the nation over the last five years. As StateImpact reported last week, CBPP’s study shows per-student spending in Idaho has dropped 19 percent since 2008. Just three states have cut more. The Idaho Department of Education takes issue with these figures and spokesperson Melissa McGrath says CBPPs report isn’t an accurate measure. “The fact is the state hasn’t reduced education funding per student by 19 percent,” McGrath says. Here’s where it gets complicated/Emily Ritter Saunders, StateImpact. More here. (Molly Messick StateImpact photo: After the Council School District lost its shop program, locals donated time, goods and services to start it up again)
Question: Do you think public schools in Idaho are funded as well as they could be?
Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna released his budget request today for the state's schools for next year, calling for a 5.1 percent, $64 million increase in state funding. Luna said he met with stakeholder groups over the summer, including the Idaho School Boards Association, Idaho Association of School Administrators, Idaho Education Association, Idaho Association of School Business Officials and others, to formulate the request; it reflects some of those groups' common priorities, he said, including “backfilling” the 1.67 percent cut in salary funds for teachers and administrators that was imposed in 2011 under the “Students Come First” school reform laws/Betsy Russell, Eye on Boise. More here. (AP file photo)
Question: Too little, too late?
Before he got elected to the U.S. Senate, Jim Risch served a few months as Idaho governor. Lieutenant governor at the time, Risch rose to the job in mid-2006 when Dirk Kempthorne got the nod to serve as President George W. Bush's interior secretary. Risch could have left well enough alone. Instead, he called a one-day special session of the Idaho Legislature. Then he imposed his will. But you already know that. Before it was over, Risch had passed a supremely consequential tax change. Rather than pay $260 million in property taxes to help schools, the governor grafted public education maintenance and operation support entirely onto the general fund. To pay for it, he backed a penny increase in the sales tax, then worth about $210 million/Marty Trillhaase, Lewiston Tribune. More here.
Question: The editorial goes on to say that the Risch plan destabilized school funding and failed to maintain the property tax cut because school districts now use levies to balance the budget. Would you like to see a do-over on this one?
Click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner on today's school budget hearing, in which state schools Superintendent Tom Luna told JFAC he'd rather offset the cuts to teacher salaries called for in his “Students Come First” laws next year than refill a state rainy-day fund for schools. “I'm confident that when we're done, we will have a budget that fully funds all of the elements of the Students Come First education reforms, and keeps teacher salaries equal to what they are today,” Luna told reporters after the budget hearing. He didn't propose reversing this year's shift from salary funds of $14.7 million.
Luna said because two-thirds of Idaho high schools have expressed interest in being among the first third of schools to get new laptop computers for each student under Students Come First, he's convinced there's “overwhelming support that's been developed for this one-to-one program.” With a referendum looming to ask voters if they want to repeal the Students Come First laws, Luna said, “I think when we get to November of this year, the last thing people are going to want to do is go back to what it was before.”
A new report released today shows Idaho has met all 10 goals in a national project to collect and monitor data on student achievement, but the state still needs to improve when it comes to effectively using the information being collected, reports AP reporter Jessie Bonner. Idaho was among the last states to launch a longitudinal data system to track student achievement; it started operating the system last school year amid strenuous complaints from school districts around the state about difficulties with the new system. The state Department of Education says it's gotten better; click below for Bonner's full report.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Public schools chief Tom Luna says education would get about a third of the projected $180 million budget surplus Idaho is expected to carry into the next fiscal year, under a spending plan he's submitting to the governor. Luna told The Associated Press on Wednesday he wants at least $61 million of the surplus to go toward public education in the 2012-2013 school year. Under Luna's budget request, more than $20 million of that extra money would be used to replace funding that would be taken from funding for salaries to pay for new education changes backed by Luna and the governor, such as teacher merit pay. The shifting of money from salaries to pay for classroom technology and pay-for-performance was among the most debated parts of Luna's education changes.
Idaho's state Land Board voted 4-1 this morning to distribute $47.5 million to state endowment beneficiaries including public schools next year, up 2.3 percent overall from this year's distribution of $46.425 million, but with no increase for schools, which would get $31.29 million, identical to this year's level. State schools Supt. Tom Luna cast the lone dissenting vote, prompting a questioning look from Gov. Butch Otter, who's chairing the meeting, as he hadn't spoken against the motion from Attorney General Lawrence Wasden to approve the endowment board's recommendation. “I chose not to rehash my concerns I've expressed before at this time,” Luna said, “seeing it wasn't going to change any votes.” Otter responded, “You're probably right.”
Luna successfully advocated an additional $22 million payment from the endowment to schools the year before last to help ease them through state budget cuts, but the board agreed to that only on a one-time basis. The endowment board's recommendation is based on the state's management formula for the fund, that 5 percent of the permanent balance be distributed to the beneficiaries each year; the largest beneficiary is public schools, while others include the University of Idaho, State Hospital South, the state penitentiary, and other state institutions. That formula would actually result in a small reduction for schools and one other beneficiary next year, but endowment fund investment manager Larry Johnson said there are sufficient reserves to make sticking with at least last year's level “prudent.”
Some of the other endowments have actually exceeded their targets for reserves; in accordance with the state's policy, $28.6 million from those funds' reserves will be transferred into their permanent funds. There's no transfer back for public schools, which now has enough reserves to cover three years of distributions, below the target of five years; all other endowments have five years' worth of reserves. “The recommended distributions and transfers are prudent and achievable, and … they represent an appropriate balance between current beneficiaries and future generations,” Johnson told the Land Board.
The distribution level approved by the Land Board today will now be built into budget requests for 2013 that lawmakers will consider in January.
Here's a link to the full breakout of how much each Idaho school district will get in a one-time payout of discretionary funds, thanks to the state's higher-than-expected state tax revenues for the year; the payouts are required under federal maintenance-of-effort rules attached to earlier stimulus funds. The total, $59.9 million, exceeds the $47 million that state lawmakers cut from public schools in next year's budget, though state officials are warning districts that more cuts still could lie ahead. The highest payout is $7.1 million for the Meridian School District; lowest is $4,216 apiece for two tiny elementary school districts, Arbon and Three Creek. The payouts are based on the number of support units, which is roughly the number of classrooms per district. Boise schools will get $5.1 million; Nampa, $3 million; Coeur d'Alene, $2.1 million; Post Falls, $1.2 million; and Lakeland, $923,261. Many school districts are targeting the one-time funds to cancel planned teacher-furlough days or other budget cuts already ordered.
- school funding
Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on Idaho's budget-crunched schools looking at a possible $50 million one-time boost in July, no strings attached, if state tax revenues meet projections in the final month of the state's fiscal year that ends June 30. And here's a link to my full story on the dustup over the state's new longitudinal data system for schools, which local school officials around the state say has serious problems, but state schools Supt. Tom Luna says must be in place by September. After Tom Taggart, president-elect of the Idaho Association of School Business Officials and director of business and operations for the Lakeland School District, urged lawmakers today to “slow down” the process so bugs can be worked out, Luna said that's not an option, under strings tied to the $300 million in federal stimulus funds Idaho's accepted in the last few years. “We lost that option when we took the money from the feds – we have a Sept. 30, 2011 deadline,” Luna said. “It's time to meet those commitments.”
The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee is now hearing an update on the new student longitudinal data system, known as ISEE, or Idaho System for Educational Excellence. “The system is pretty well developed now and the department is transitioning off of federal funds,” explained legislative budget analyst Paul Headlee. “It looks like at this time, both the development and maintenance of the system is less than was originally proposed in 2008.” From fiscal years 2009 to 2011, the state has appropriated $8.64 million for development, including a $5.9 million federal grant, and in fiscal year 2012, the state has appropriated $1.09 million for maintenance and operations.
Tom Taggart, president-elect of the Idaho Association of School Business Officials, told the lawmakers, “We want to look forward in what we can do to make this work, without being too negative, but I think part of our message is a dose of reality as to what's going on at the school level with ISEE. We're the nuts and bolts people who are in the business offices in the schools. We like it when things work, and when they don't work we like to find a way to fix them.”
On ISEE, he said, “There's still a lot of concern and frustration. … We're not here to whine, we're not here to put up roadblocks. We don't have any political agenda. We want see this thing work. However to our members it's clear at this point it isn't working for the school districts, and we haven't seen what we'd like to see in response to our concerns.” Trying to get the system to work has placed a “huge burden” on school district staffs, Taggart said. “They are spending hundreds and hundreds of hours. … A lot of time it's like whack-a-mole: You solve this problem and three more pop up over here you have to deal with.”
As a result, he said, “I'm not sure anyone can say exactly how many units are being funded this year, how many teachers are being funded. … Normally at this time, we'd have that information.” That's created uncertainty in setting district budgets, he said. “There's great frustration out there.”
The possible $50 million additional payout of discretionary money to Idaho schools, if state surplus funds hold up in June, will be “very significant,” said JFAC Co-Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. “We were hoping it'll be a little higher,” he said. “It may be the very thing that helps 'em through this tough budget year.”
His co-chair, Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, cautioned, however, “June isn't here yet.” June typically is the fourth-largest month for state tax revenues, and in some past years, she noted, it's brought bad news. Said Cameron, “We'd feel better about June had May been a better number.”
School districts, already facing big cuts, will have full discretion on how they spend the one-time payout of discretionary funds. “They can do whatever they feel they need to do,” Cameron said. “They may buy back furlough days. They may use it toward staffing needs.” Bell said, “This has no strings attached to it at all.” But both Cameron and Bell said they'd encourage them to “be cautious, because we know the next budget may be worse.”
The state budget for schools for next year includes a 1.6 percent cut in salary-based apportionment, the main state funding source for staff salaries for schools, and the following year, that apportionment will be cut by 4.2 percent as part of the new school reform laws, with those funds shifted elsewhere, including to technology investments. “That's already built in in statute,” Cameron said. “From my perspective, they are wise to hang onto it for the following budget year.”
The final numbers aren't in yet, but the latest estimates suggest that, depending on what happens with state tax revenues in June, Idaho school districts and charter schools could get about $50 million in a one-time distribution of discretionary funds to satisfy federal maintenance-of-effort requirements attached to federal stimulus funds Idaho accepted earlier. That would be about $3,587 per support unit; a support unit is a calculation roughly equal to a classroom.
Legislative budget analyst Paul Headlee said under the same requirements, community colleges likely would get about $5.5 million. If there's a negative variance in this year's school funding formula calculations, the amounts to be distributed could drop; if the state collects more than forecast in June, they could go up, and if it collects less than forecast, they could drop.
The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee is gathered for its interim meeting and tour today, starting out at Columbia High School in Nampa. Nampa School District Superintendent Gary Larsen, asked by committee members how he'll cope with state budget cuts and new requirements to shift salary funds to technology, said, “We'll work with what we get. … I'm a little leery about cutting back the workforce more than we have.”
JFAC Co-Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said, “We're not even using the word 'normal' any more in this situation.”
Among those joining the joint legislative budget committee for its meetings this morning are state schools Supt. Tom Luna.
The Meridian School District won't try again this summer on its failed supplemental tax levy request, the Boise Weekly reports, and instead is starting work on cuts including slashing the school year to 14 fewer days than it had two years ago and eliminating 100 teaching jobs. “The taxpayers have spoken,” Meridian Superintendent Linda Clark told Boise Weekly reporter George Prentice. “They expect us to live within the means of state funds and that's what we're going to do.” You can read Prentice's report here.
Here's how much in new property taxes Idahoans have voted on themselves so far this spring to shore up their local schools in the wake of state budget cuts: $77.32 million a year, with most of those levies stretching for two years. There's still another round of levy elections scheduled for August. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
A preliminary report on supplemental levy elections in held in school districts around the state compiled by the Idaho State Department of Education shows that of 36 school districts holding supplemental levy votes on Tuesday, 27 won passage from local voters, while nine failed, including, notably, one in the state's largest school district, Meridian. That means 75 percent passed. The last round of school district supplemental levy votes was on March 8; according to the department's figures, 29 districts held votes then, and 27 passed with just two failing. One of those two, Boundary County, went back to its voters on Tuesday, and this time, they passed the proposed $1.4 million levy.
All told, that means that this spring 65 of Idaho's 115 school districts asked their voters to raise their own property taxes to add to the school district's operating funds, and in 54 of those districts – that's 83 percent – voters said yes.
The moves come as state lawmakers cut state funding for schools for the third straight year, saying they didn't want to raise taxes.
Melissa McGrath, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, said the numbers are preliminary, as the counties still are certifying their election results from Tuesday. “I think it really shows that every community makes its own decision on levies,” she said. “We at the state level do not get involved in local levy elections; we leave it up to the local communities.”
After voters in Idaho's largest school district - Meridian - rejected a two-year, $37 million property tax levy yesterday, the school district is saying it will have to lay off teachers and principals; drop dental and vision coverage for district employees unless they pay for it themselves; and cut as much as 14 days off the school calendar - most of those instructional days - to make $14 million in cuts. Eric Exline, district spokesman, told KBOI-TV the lost school days will mean “that much stuff that kids aren't going to learn.” You can see the KBOI-TV report here and election results here.
Strong tax revenues in April, the biggest month of the year, could mean Idaho's public schools will get up to a $55 million one-time boost at the end of this fiscal year on July 1 - an amount that exceeds the $47 million cut state lawmakers imposed on schools for next year. That wouldn't stop the bleeding - it doesn't reverse the unprecedented $128.5 million in cuts schools took this year, which are continuing next year. But it's a sign that the gloomy revenue assumptions lawmakers used to slash budgets were off. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A dozen teachers in the tiny town of Harrison are the first to sue an Idaho school district over pay and benefits negotiated under financial emergency declarations that started two years ago. The lawsuit against the Kootenai School District was filed Tuesday. The suit claims the district made a decision to worsen their “last best offer” after the deal was extended — and rejected — by teachers and that decision violated the financial emergency statutes. Teachers are guaranteed by state law at least as much money as they earned in the previous year. But lawmakers for the past two years have allowed districts the option of financial emergencies to make cuts to help balance budgets. Attorney John Rumel, general counsel for the Idaho Education Association, says this is the first lawsuit the union has brought on behalf of teachers as the result of financial emergency negotiations in the past two years.
Canceling unpaid furloughs for teachers and other school employees, reversing layoff decisions and adding back school days are among the plans being mulled by North Idaho school districts for their share of the last-minute federal jobs bill money, which is arriving just as school starts. In Coeur d’Alene, reinstating the planned six unpaid furlough days will take up $1.2 million of the district’s $1.8 million share.
The federal aid was welcome news after Idaho lawmakers cut an unprecedented $128 million from the state’s public school budget this year – 7.5 percent – and declared a statewide financial emergency to allow school districts to reopen negotiated teacher contracts and cut pay and benefits. The money could allow districts to reverse up to 40 percent of those cuts, but if they follow the governor’s advice and spread the money over two years, the impact could be less. Read our full story here at spokesman.com.
- school funding
Yesterday Gov. Butch Otter announced that Idaho will qualify for $51.6 million in federal aid for its ailing schools, and said he’ll apply for the funds, and state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna hailed Otter’s decision in a statement posted here yesterday. Later the same day, Democratic candidate for governor Keith Allred issued a statement saying the decision to apply for the federal funds was a sign that Otter had failed the schools this year; “Otter cut education so severely that even taking the big federal bailout won’t keep our schools whole,” he said. And legislative Democrats sent out a statement urging Otter and Luna to quickly distribute the money to schools to make up the “dramatic and unprecedented cuts that have occurred under Republican leadership in recent years.” Click below to read both their statements.
Idaho’s state Land Board has voted unanimously to set distributions from the state’s permanent endowment to public schools and other endowment beneficiaries for next year at this year’s level, less the special, one-time extra distribution of $22 million to public schools this year. That means overall distributions will be down 32 percent and public school distributions will be down 41.3 percent, dropping from a total of $53.3 million this year to $31.3 million next year. But if you set aside the special $22 million allocation this year, the total distributions actually rise by 0.6 percent.
Gov. Butch Otter asked Larry Johnson, manager of investments for the endowment fund, “Is there any way we can measure the effect of taking that $22 million out? I mean, for historical purposes - we’ve done it. … If we’re tracking it we can look back on it in years to come … know what our overall cost is.” Johnson replied that that will depend on the endowment fund’s earnings. For example, if the fund earns 15 percent, the cost would be 15 percent of $22 million. If the fund were flat, the cost would be zero. Said Otter, “I just think it would be valuable for us to know … what the effect of that was, should we ever be faced with that situation again.”
Johnson submitted pages of charts and analysis from the Endowment Fund Investment Board to the Land Board showing that holding the distributions even, but for the $22 million, would be “prudent” given the various endowment funds’ earnings. Continuing the $22 million in fiscal year 2012, however, would not, he said. In four of the endowments - not the major one, which is for public schools - earnings have actually built up beyond five years’ worth of distributions in the reserve funds, and the investment board recommended a transfer from those funds back into the permanent fund, as prescribed by its investment plan. “The recommended distributions and transfers appear to be achievable and represent an appropriate balance between the interests of current and future beneficiaries,” said the report from the endowment board.
Attorney General Lawrence Wasden made a motion to approve the recommendation, Controller Donna Jones seconded the motion, and the vote was unanimous - including from state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna, who was participating by phone. Luna, who pushed for the $22 million extra distribution for schools this year - and who actually wanted twice that amount - made no comment this time. Idaho’s endowment fund had a 5 percent gain in July, the first month of the fiscal year.
Idaho will qualify for $51.6 million in aid to its hard-hit public schools under the new federal jobs bill, and Gov. Butch Otter has announced that he’ll apply for the money, a decision welcomed by state schools Supt. Tom Luna. Click below to read Otter’s full news release.
State schools Supt. Tom Luna says Idaho’s public schools need a 9.2 percent increase in state general funds next year, just to keep even and fund student growth. In a budget request for fiscal year 2011 that Luna’s scheduled to present to the state Board of Education on Thursday, he calls for a $1.34 billion general fund appropriation for public schools next year, $1.73 billion in total funds. That’s up from $1.23 billion in general funds this year - the first year that Idaho’s schools have taken a cut in state funds from what they received the year before. This year’s school budget, in state funds, was 7.7 percent below last year’s $1.33 billion level.
In his submission for Thursday’s state board meeting, Luna said his budget request for next year would require a $112.7 million increase in general funds to replace federal stimulus money that helped prop up this year’s school budget, and to fund growth. He’s also calling for a $28.1 million appropriation from the state’s Public Education Stabilization Fund to finish closing that gap. In total funds - including federal stimulus money, some of which was targeted to specific programs - this year’s school budget was set at $1.71 billion.