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News >  Idaho

Idaho lawmakers back 6.3% funding boost for schools

UPDATED: Mon., Feb. 27, 2017

Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, led a group of legislative budget writers who crafted the public school budget that won approval in the Idaho Legislature’s joint budget committee on Monday morning, Feb. 27, 2017. (Betsy Z. Russell)
Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, led a group of legislative budget writers who crafted the public school budget that won approval in the Idaho Legislature’s joint budget committee on Monday morning, Feb. 27, 2017. (Betsy Z. Russell)

BOISE – Idaho lawmakers set a budget Monday for K-12 public schools for next year at $1.7 billion, a 6.3 percent increase in state funding over this year.

The Legislature’s number is only slightly less than the 6.4 percent Gov. Butch Otter recommended.

A major difference was that the governor called for no increase in discretionary funds to school districts, which districts can use to cover a range of expenses, and instead freezing discretionary funds while adding a new $15 million line item to cover health insurance cost increases. Otter argued that that would free up more of school districts’ discretionary funds for other expenses.

However, the actual increases for health insurance in districts are expected to be greater than that amount, and costs vary by school district. Members of the Legislature’s Joint-Finance Appropriations Committee instead crafted a plan to increase discretionary funds for school districts by 4.1 percent, with calculations built into the increases intended to reflect both rising insurance costs and other school expenses that are rising.

“For the first time ever, we have a budget built on actual costs,” said Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, who led a group of JFAC members who crafted the budget. “We went out and did a ton of homework.”

The budget includes $62 million to fully fund the third year of the teacher “career ladder” pay improvement program; 3 percent base salary increases for administrators and classified staff who aren’t on the career ladder; a $5 million increase in classroom technology funding; and a $4.25 million increase in funding for professional development for teachers, which is a 33 percent increase.

Horman said she believes the budget fully funds the recommendations of Otter’s education improvement task force, which laid out a five-year plan for which Idaho’s now planning the third year.

In addition to setting the public schools budget on Monday, the appropriations committee set the budget for Medicaid, a major portion of the Department of Health and Welfare.

Legislative budget writers set the Medicaid budget for next year at $531.9 million in state general funds, making the total Medicaid budget $2.3 billion in total funds. Federal matching funds make up the majority of the funding for Idaho’s state-federal Medicaid program, which provides health care to disabled and low-income Idahoans. The legislators trimmed $5 million in state funding that they said likely won’t be needed for caseload growth, as many of the added patients are healthy children.

“What that amounts to is we found $5 million worth of general fund dollars,” said Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, who helped craft the Medicaid budget.

Both the public schools and Medicaid budget bills still need approval from the full House and Senate and the governor’s signature to become law, but budget bills rarely change after they’re set by the joint committee.

Between Medicaid and public schools, the joint committee on Monday set more than 60 percent of the state’s general fund budget in a single day.

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