Remember reports last week about Gov. Butch Otter’s staff and State Superintendent Tom Luna feuding over teacher pay? Luna wanted nearly $20 million more in the education budget than Otter since, as Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey put it, higher teacher pay would “remove the most politically powerful argument against his plan: that it cuts teacher pay and increases class size.”
Their arguments may be moot because the Idaho Legislature’s Joint Economic Outlook and Revenue Assessment Committee today set a target that’s $33.3 million below Otter’s estimate. In doing so, they basically split the difference between what Otter envisioned and committee members’ own estimates, which – according to Betsy Russell of Eye on Boise – “had a median of $2.6389 billion …. that's $61.4 million lower than the governor's forecast.”
The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee will set its own target next month before setting the final budget, and it could be higher or lower, depending on state revenues between now and then. But for now, the forecast is not good for Idaho students and teachers, especially given the new laws that will divert money to fund the technology mandates and pay-for-performance scheme passed by lawmakers last year. Voters will get to decide this November whether or not to keep the new laws.
Also today, the Senate Education Committee today approved S1237, which amends the technology mandate passed by last year’s Idaho Legislature. The amendment – sought by the State Board of Education – allows the teacher of an online class to be in the same building as students taking the class. As Sen. John Goedde (R-Coeur d’Alene) told Russell at Eye on Boise:
“The thought is to provide distance education,” and the line originally was included “to make sure that there was some distance there.” But he said a southern Idaho consortium of high schools that's sharing teachers and sharing courses online ran into problems with the clause. “The work that's being done by that group of schools is important to recognize, and this kinda got in the way of it.”
IEA President Penni Cyr testified on the amendment. She made it clear that the IEA opposes the overall technology mandate law and will work to overturn it this November. But she said that the IEA favors policies that make it easier for students to learn and this amendment was positive in that regard.