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Eye On Boise

JFAC approves small budget increase for the state’s existing community colleges

Lawmakers set a budget for the state’s community colleges this morning that’s slightly more generous that Gov. Butch Otter’s proposal, which would have resulted in a cut to North Idaho College’s budget and stopped the expansion of the Coeur d’Alene college’s popular new computer science program. Instead, the budget approved on a unanimous, 19-0 vote in the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee adds that $307,700 in funding for NIC’s computer science program back in, along with $385,000 to offset benefit cost increases at NIC and the College of Southern Idaho. That’s similar to a move made earlier in the higher education budget for the University of Idaho; the U of I, NIC and CSI all are self-insured, so the state’s approach to benefit cost funding next year otherwise would mean a big expense those colleges would have had to pick up.

An array of line-item requests from the state’s community colleges went unfunded in Otter’s budget recommendation for next year, as Otter focused new funding on the recommendations of his higher-education task force.

Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, said the computer science expansion already is in process. “That is a program that we initiated in the last couple of years, and there are students in the pipeline,” said Horman, who proposed the successful budget motion. “This is the buildout of that program.”

The computer science program is a collaboration between NIC and the University of Idaho that allows students to study for their first two years at NIC, then transfer to the U of I and earn four-year degrees – all without leaving Coeur d’Alene. It’s in its second year now and has a capacity of roughly 60 students. NIC officials said there’s enough demand to double the number of students; that’s what the new funding would allow.

A competing budget proposal from Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, was defeated by just one vote, 9-10. In addition to the items Horman included in her motion, Ward-Engelking’s proposal would have added in an additional line item each for the College of Southern Idaho and the College of Western Idaho – $194,700 for CSI to launch a “weekend college” program in Twin Falls, aimed at students who are working full-time or in high school and seeking dual credits; and $207,300 for additional staff to support student retention at fast-growing CWI in the Treasure Valley, to help ensure those students can stay in school. More than 700 veterans are enrolled at CWI, Ward-Engelking noted. “They have some unique needs that need to be addressed,” she said.

Her motion, which was seconded by Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, fell just short, with Sen. Fred Martin, R-Boise, casting the tie-breaking motion to kill it.

Overall, the community college budget that lawmakers approved shows a 17.1 percent increase in state general funds, but that’s largely because of the addition of the new College of Eastern Idaho; Otter’s budget recommendation showed a 15.3 percent increase. Ward-Engelking’s proposal was for an 18.1 percent increase.

Broken down by institution, the successful budget reflects just a 1.1 percent increase in state funding for CSI; 1.5 percent for NIC; and 10.9 percent for CWI, largely driven by enrollment workload adjustment funding tied to that college’s fast-growing enrollment. The new CEI would receive $5 million in state funding.

Horman described the budget as “kind of a bare-bones approach, excepting the CEI start-up funds.”

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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