BOISE -- For the third year in a row, the public education budget will decrease, but State School Superintendent, Tom Luna, says that this year's cut will be a relief for most districts.
State departments across Idaho have been taking drastic budget cuts during this legislative session. Luna says schools have been preparing for the worst, but Monday morning the budget writers gave schools some mixed news. They didn't avoid budget cutbacks entirely, but the cuts will be less than expected.
It is definitely better news than what we thought we were going to have to deal with just a few months ago, said Luna.
Schools will have $47 million slashed from their budget in the upcoming school year. A relief for Luna who says most had prepared for at least another $50 million cut.
He admits that no one is happy about the cuts but thanked lawmakers for their commitment to find extra money to keep some funding intact.
Higher ed was cut considerably more, Health and Welfare was cut considerably more, my department and other departments have been cut considerably more so we could turn over every rock, shake every tree to find every dollar we can for public education, said Luna.
The budget set Monday is based around the third education reform bill which would increase technology in the classroom. It still has to pass the House but Luna is confident that will happen.
They passed a budget out of JFAC today anticipating that (Senate bill) 1184 is going to end up on the governor's desk and being signed. I think that's good news for 1184 and it's good news for education reform in Idaho, said Luna.
The biggest cuts to K-12 funding will come out of discretionary funding. Administrative and teacher salaries will also be cut. Luna says those will be close to 2 percent.
A few weeks ago Governor Otter signed an education reform bill that creates a pay-for-performance system for teachers. The system will not help to fill the gap in teachers' salaries for the upcoming year, but it could in following years.
Luna says there is a chance schools could see extra money if Idaho ends up with higher revenue than projected. If that does happen, he encourages schools to use that money wisely.
Lawmakers are counting on a plan to boost Idaho's tax collections next year to increase state support for public education.
The budget includes a $9.3 million increase in state general funds for public schools. That's better than the $6 million cut some lawmakers had feared and follows the committee's approval of a plan last week to increase staffing at the State Tax Commission to generate more revenue.