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Controversial Changes to JFAC Budget Writing Process Likely to Impact Education Budgets

February 17, 2024

Recent changes to how the Idaho Legislature’s powerful budget-writing committee operates are almost certain to inject the political vitriol around public education deeper into the panel’s decisions about public school budgets.

The new process for the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee (JFAC), which is composed of 10 senators and 10 representatives, gives the panel the power to reject or approve specific line items in state agency budgets, including public schools. These programmatic line items, previously part of large comprehensive budget packages voted on by lawmakers as a whole, can now be parsed out and voted on separately.

“Instead of a budget full of line items, like literacy intervention, math initiative, technology, classified pay and everything else that goes into operating a school district, JFAC will now consider each line individually,” said Matt Compton, associate executive director for the Idaho Education Association. “The new process opens the door for the enemies of public education to reduce or remove funding for programs and services they disagree with or don’t deem essential for our public education system — no matter what the education experts say.”

The changes to JFAC’s long-standing practices, implemented by the panel’s powerful co-chairs, Sen. Scott Grow (R-Eagle) and Rep. Wendy Horman (R-Idaho Falls), were met with considerable opposition on the committee and within the Legislature as a whole. The outcry led to the nearly unprecedented ouster of House Majority Leader Megan Blanksma, the only female in legislative leadership, earlier this month.

For education policy, the continued fallout of the shakeup seemed to continue this week with the appointment of long-time voucher proponent Rep. Judy Boyle (R-Midvale) to the House Revenue and Taxation Committee. That committee is expected to consider House Bill 447, a tax credit voucher, also co-sponsored by Grow and Horman, as well as Rep. Jason Monks (R-Meridian) and Sen. Doug Ricks (R-Rexburg).


Proponents of JFAC’s new budgeting process argue that it will provide greater transparency to every dollar going into each budget and lawmakers can determine what stays and what goes. Critics, however, say it gives too much power to individual lawmakers over essential government services.

“For example, the importance of social-emotional learning, not in question among education experts, has become a hot potato topic among certain elements in political circles in recent years,” Compton said. “Opponents of SEL say it is a tool to manipulate the well-being of students and slip progressive politics into the classroom. Educators know this is not the case, but JFAC’s new budgeting process allows opponents of public education to use such ideological-driven misconceptions of public schools to eliminate budgets to support such programs.”

The new process involves setting so-called “maintenance budgets” for each agency, as determined by legislative leadership, and then passing the programmatic supplementary budgets for each agency. To date, only one of the three expected education maintenance budgets has been moved out of committee by JFAC.

Gov. Brad Little, a strong ideological conservative and public education advocate, also seems skeptical of JFAC’s shift in focus and seems to question changing the committee’s proven and long-standing practices.

“It is the most replicated system in the nation,” Gov. Little said in a media interview earlier this month. “When they started the joint process, it wasn’t too long before I interned there in 1976, and ever since then it’s been very, very replicated. So, if you are going to make a change, what are the intended and the unintended consequences? (There is also) the issue of who gets to define ‘maintenance?’”

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