Idaho schools could see a $130 million cut in fiscal year 2011, compared to the amount of money that was appropriated last year by the Legislature, State Superintendent of Public Instrustion Tom Luna said today. And that, in and of itself, should alarm every mother and father and patron in our school system, he added.
Luna held a press round table on Wednesday to publicly respond to Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter’s proposed budgets which include mid-year cuts to public schools and further cuts next year. Luna claims that there’s a discrepancy between the numbers reported in Otter’s proposed budget, in that it does not reflect the total cuts to public education, or the lack of continued stimulus fueling.
If you couple stimulus funds with the monies that were cut last year, what we’re talking about is almost $200 million that will have been cut from our public schools budget over a two year period, Luna said.
Luna took some time to discuss creative ways that the schools might make some money. He reiterated his enthusiasm for the Race to the Top program, which he also presented to the Legislature earlier, on the same day of the deadline for school districts to sign on to the race. The program has gained the support of 59 school districts, over half, and 18 charter schools. If awarded the competitive grant, Luna plans to apply the funds toward pilot programs, similar to the way the money from the stimulus was spent.
The State Department of Education also faces a diminished Public Education Stabilization Fund (PESF), which now holds roughly $24 million dollars, $10 million of which will have to be spent.
JFAC did not fund school field trips last year, and did not fund a portion of the early retirement program, but the bills that aimed to slash field trips and early retirement were killed in the Senate at the last minute, so the appropriation will likely come out of PSEF.
Also today, Boise’s City Club forum took up political punditry, with a panel moderated by uber-pundit and long-time lobbyist and political operative Marc Johnson. Steve Ahrens, for the Idaho Business Review, Dan Popkey of the Idaho Statesman and Betsy Russell of the Spokesman-Review sounded off on the upcoming session.
Russell spoke of the difficulty of voting for drastic cuts and then going home to run for reelection. Legislators, “may very well still be in session while everybody’s going out to vote. They may come home to people that don’t really like them because they cut their favorite program,” Russell said.
Ahrens, a former head of Idaho’s leading big business lobby and IBR columnist, put his support behind the controversial idea to cut the personal corporate income tax, and to reduce the corporate income tax, two ideas Republicans believe will foster economic growth.
Popkey defended his repeated portrayal of Otter as more of a centrist, rather than the reformer that originally took office.
“He’s matured like, hopefully, we all have. I think the burden of governing is a far different role. He’s changed because the job changes people,” Popkey said.