The following are remarks as prepared for delivery by Idaho Education Association President Penni Cyr to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee for the JFAC public hearing today.
Members of the committee: Thank you for this opportunity to speak today. I’m Penni Cyr, a high school teacher-librarian on leave from the Moscow School District serving as President of the Idaho Education Association. I represent thousands of teachers and education employees who can't be here today because they are at school. We have two main requests of you today: backfill the money lost from salary-based apportionment and keep educators’ salaries whole before refilling the rainy-day accounts.
Last week, Superintendent Tom Luna asked you to backfill the scheduled $19.6 million shift out of salary-based apportionment, a shift that is necessary to pay for his education reforms.We are glad that Superintendent Luna realizes the need to ensure teachers do not suffer further salary cuts.
We agree that backfilling the salary-based apportionment is necessary. However, we wonder – as several of you did in your questions to Superintendent Luna last week – what will happen over the next four years when money will continue to be taken from the base salary pool to fund the reforms approved last year? This ongoing uncertainty is why the IEA and our allies will urge Idaho voters to overturn the three reforms on the ballot this November, so schools do not face this funding cliff each year.
Some would claim that no education jobs have been lost to three years of public school budget cuts and the education reforms, but we don’t believe this to be the case. Even if you are able to backfill next year’s shift, the formula changes in the legislation passed last year almost assure that class sizes will be larger next year.
As teachers and classroom aides retire or leave Idaho for better pay, many are not being replaced.
In addition, the removal of the “use it or lose it” provision passed last year allows districts to use state funds in many other ways not envisioned by the Legislature. These are the unintended consequences of last year’s education reforms.
We believe that now is not the time to make refilling the state’s rainy-day accounts a top priority.
Although the economy is improving slowly, it’s still raining and school districts need all available funds now to address class sizes and keep teachers, classroom aides, and other education employees on the job.
As you know, the Public Education Stabilization Fund actually has more money in it now than it did at this time last year. The IEA is not opposed to a long-term strategy of saving money for schools, but we believe this must be done gradually when local districts are still struggling, class sizes are growing, and most education employees have lost pay and benefits in recent years.
Thank you, Co-Chairs Bell and Cameron and members of the committee, for going out of your way again this year to be sure Idaho citizens and organizations like ours are able to offer our input into your budget decisions.
Now that the economy is slowly improving, it’s time to reinvest in our state’s public schools. We've also heard calls this morning to restore cuts to Medicaid, and that, too, is important for the children we serve.
The wise decisions you make this winter can help boost both our public schools and our economic prospects for decades to come. We know that as you make your decisions, you will keep Idaho’s children and their future uppermost in your minds, and we thank you for that.