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Eye On Boise

JFAC hearing on state budget draws just a handful; most focus on school funding

Just four people testified at today’s public hearing in JFAC on the state budget: Rob Winslow of the Idaho Association of School Administrators; Wayne Hoffman of the Idaho Freedom Foundation; Robin Nettinga of the Idaho Education Association; and Karen Echeverria of the Idaho School Boards Association.

“Thank you for your great support of education,” Winslow told the joint budget committee. He said his group’s two top budget priorities are funding for the career ladder, “which certainly supports recruitment and retention;” and restoration of operational funding cut during the economic downturn. “Restoration of that is so vital for school districts and fiscal stability,” Winslow said. He said the IASA also supports budget items this year for technology in the classroom, literacy intervention, college and career advising and professional development.

Hoffman told the committee he thinks the state is spending too much. “Look at all the federal money that’s going in, make some determinations about what money is indispensable and what dollars you can do without,” he said. “I’ve heard that Washington, D.C. is having money problems, we might want to be cognizant of that fact.” He also called the governor’s budget recommendation too high an increase, and said the current situation reminds him of 2001, “when the Legislature had to come back in 2002 and perform a lot of recissions.” He said, “I understand you have $100 million left on the table, or are projected to at the end of this fiscal year, but I think it would be not a wise move to spend down all that money.”

Nettinga said, “Like Rob, we want to thank you for your support for public schools. ... We have emphasized the importance of providing our districts with the means that they need to recruit and retain the highest quality staff.” She said the IEA was pleased when state schools Superintendent Sherri Ybarra called for a “significant funding increase,” and “even more gratified” when Gov. Butch Otter called for a higher amount. “We believe this is the kind of effort that it’s going to take if we’re going to keep recruiting the best and brightest students to the teaching field,” she said. Nettinga said the group’s three top priorities are career ladder funding; restoration of operational funds to at least the 2009 level; and professional development and mentoring.

Echeverria said the ISBA’s top priorities are the career ladder and restoration of operational funds back to 2009 levels, and they don’t want additional line items added within the public school budget, tying strings to state funds that go to school districts. She told the lawmakers, “In November of 2014, the Idaho School Boards Association included charter schools as full members of our association. We are still the only state in the nation to have done that. We represent 114 of the 115 school districts and 36 of the 48 charter schools.”

With that, JFAC Co-Chair Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said, “That is my signup sheet.” She noted that the House and Senate Health & Welfare committees earlier held extensive hearings on health and welfare budget issues. Bell then invited up some of the visiting high school students who filled several benches in the audience, to share their impressions of what they’re seeing in the Legislature.

After Co-Chair Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, asked again if anyone else wanted to offer comments and there was no one, Bell said, “I think we’ll go ahead and go work on budgets.”

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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