In Tom Luna’s ideal world, every part of the reforms he pushed through last year would be fully funded and every child would receive adequate individual attention from a highly qualified teacher.
But in the real world, Luna’s vision faces a budget process that is fraught with uncertainty, as well as the demands that Luna’s reform mandates are placing on districts. The state superintendent brought his proposed Fiscal Year 2013 budget before the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee today and was met with skepticism that he can fund his goals under current revenue projections.
With referendums against the laws looming in November, Luna’s presentation resembled the sales pitch he did for his reforms just over a year ago; he spent only a short time actually outlining his budget request. Speaking today, he implored the budget writers to fully fund his pay-for-performance and technology mandates while restoring teacher salaries, but he admitted that even with an increase, the salary schedule would not be restored to where it was before the recession due to freezes and cuts these past three years.
During a Q&A period with the joint committee, there was a brief interchange between Luna and JFAC Co-Chair Rep. Dean Cameron (R-Rupert) about changes to his budget request. Today marked the second straight year Luna changed his budget requests significantly from the request he made in September, causing additional JFAC staff time. Luna argued that his Technology Task Force requested that he ask for funds to hire information technology staff. Cameron countered that since the request came in December, Luna should have submitted it then.
Other questions had to do with shifts in salary-based apportionment. For the current school year, districts took a 1.67 percent cut, or about $14.7 million, to fund Luna’s reforms. For FY 2013, there’s a scheduled $19.67 million shift from the salary pool, and that is what Luna seeks to “backfill.” But for FY 2014, Luna’s reforms call for an additional $21.5 million to be shifted from base salaries (on top of the first two cuts), with three more years of cuts coming after that. Luna said those, too, could be backfilled if revenues allow. But if revenues fall short of projections, the state may face a steeper cliff in funding base salaries as well as the 2011 mandates.
The superintendent maintains that his budget does not cut teaching positions to pay for his reforms. But the fact is Idaho is already losing educators due to the state’s policies of the past few years. Although the state has not provided a tally of lost education jobs, there have been layoffs and positions going unfilled, and an increasing number of taxpayers have taxed themselves to help their districts make up lost state revenues.
In other news, the House Education Committee heard a bill by Rep. Steve Thayn (R-Emmett) that would encourage seventh grade students to enroll in an accelerated program that would allow them to complete all high school requirements plus the equivalent of two years of college by the end of the 12th grade. The House panel also took up S1224, the bill clarifying that the parental input element of teacher evaluations will begin next school year.