The Senate Education Committee spent nearly an hour this afternoon discussing Senate Bill 1113. As written, the legislation would increase class sizes; cut at least 1,000 education jobs over the next few years; mandate online courses and “mobile computing devices” for high school students; and return teacher salaries to their 2009 levels.
But for all intents and purposes, this centerpiece of the Luna plan may now be dead. As Committee Chairman Sen. John Goedde (R- Coeur d’Alene) said, there appears to be, “no effort to move SB 1113 forward at this point.”
The bill was sent back to the committee last week, even as the union-busting Senate Bill 1108 and unfunded pay-for-performance Senate Bill 1110 squeaked through the Senate on 20-15 votes. Since then, several committee members have reportedly been working to create a new centerpiece bill that is more palatable to their Senate colleagues and the thousands of parents, teachers, and students who have opposed the Luna plan.
Sen. Dean Mortimer (R-Idaho Falls) told committee members that the FY 12 funding hole for public schools is now estimated to be $62 million. If lawmakers don’t change the support unit funding, there are only a few other options available to make up that deficit.
- Lawmakers can cut discretionary funds that are available for districts to pay for district operating expenses such as heating and lights, employee health insurance, bus fuel, and additional staffing expenses not funded by the state.
- They can further slice into teacher salaries. This line item makes up the largest portion of the education budget, making it the straightforward place to look for savings.
- Or, legislators can free up some or all of the “Use it or Lose It” funding that districts receive to hire teachers. This part of public school funding that resulted from a 1990s funding lawsuit requires districts to hire the number of teachers for which they are funded, or lose the unused portion of funds.
Representatives of the administrators, school boards, and the IEA weighed in on the issue of Use It or Lose It. IEA Executive Director Robin Nettinga told committee members that allowing school districts to divert funds that would otherwise ensure teachers are hired will have the same result as changing the ADA divisor: classroom sizes will increase throughout the state.
Nettinga reminded lawmakers that a significant number of communities across the state have stepped up and taxed themselves through supplemental levies to ensure their children have access to quality programs and instructors. She assured lawmakers that the IEA will be working side by side with superintendents, school board members, and parents to help ensure these elections are successful again this spring.
Instead of searching for ways to cut into school funding to make up the funding hole, Nettinga reminded lawmakers that the answer to Idaho’s persistent school funding problem has a simple solution: enhanced revenue. The recent Boise State University public policy survey found that a majority of Idahoans would pay an extra cent on their sales tax if it meant helping our children’s schools. People in communities statewide have already shown they are willing to support strong schools, but elected officials lack the political will to follow them.