Budget committee approves $2.2 billion for Idaho schools

February 18, 2019

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A 6 percent increase in funding for all public schools — for a total of $2.2 billion — was approved Monday by the Legislature’s budget-setting committee.

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee voted unanimously on a series of school budgets for fiscal year 2020 that would need to clear the House and Senate before they can be approved by the governor.

The budget includes about $1.9 billion in state funds and the rest in federal money. The budget for public schools is about half of all state spending.

The overall budget is less than that requested by Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra, but does include about $50 million to pay for the fifth and final year of a program intended to boost teacher pay.

The budget also includes paying for an increase in student enrollment and paying for Gov. Brad Little’s literary proficiency program, but doesn’t include about $3.5 million Ybarra wanted for a math initiative, professional development for teachers and a program intended to keep students safe.

“No one is necessarily of the mind of not wanting to do more for schools,” said Republican Rep. Britt Raybould. “The reality is that we’re dealing with some revenue forecasts that have raised some concern within the state and we have to balance all our commitments accordingly.”

The revenue concerns stem from changes in tax laws that appear to have caused some Idahoans not to have paid enough taxes, but which are expected to be collected eventually. That might not happen until after the Legislature is done sometime in late March or early April.

“I think (the committee) passed a good budget that provides enough dollars that we can do some good things,” said Republican Steve Bair, co-chairman of the committee.

Ybarra in a statement said it was “encouraging that our children’s education continues to be a top priority for lawmakers.” But she also said she was disappointed the committee didn’t include money for her Keep Idaho Students Safe initiative.

Both Bair and his co-chairman, Republican Rep. Rick Youngblood, said that decision was part of the budget process and making priorities.

“Right now we really need to understand the plan better,” Youngblood said. “She has told us she understands that and we’ll be working further on that.”

Youngblood noted that Little’s $13.1 million literary proficiency program made it through intact. However, to do that the budget committee yanked about $3 million from a scholarship program.

“Literacy was back and forth and back and forth,” Youngblood said. “So I was pleased to see that we funded the governor’s request.”

Democratic Rep. Melissa Wintrow voted for all the budgets but still had some concerns. She said additional legislation might be introduced later in the session to address some areas.