State Board of Education member Bill Goesling ripped into Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna’s budget proposal on Thursday, calling the 5.9 percent spending increase “unacceptable.”
Goesling said an increase in public school funding would come at the expense of Idaho’s colleges and universities.
“I find this to be just an unacceptable increase in numbers,” Goesling said during the board’s meeting in Lewiston. “I think at some point the board is going to have stand up and say, ‘This is not going to work for higher education.’”
Luna’s K-12 budget proposal does not factor in higher education spending, and it does not call for any cuts in any other budgets.
Goesling suggested board members — who are appointed by Gov. Butch Otter — make a separate recommendation to the governor.
Although he was perhaps the most vocal critic of Luna’s proposed budget, Goesling was not alone.
“The fact is these numbers are staggering when you look at where we are going and what we are doing and who is going to be robbed in this whole spectrum of moneys,” said board member Milford Terrell. Terrell said he understands public schools and universities are both seeking a restoration of Great Recession-era budget cuts.
The debate flared up as Luna Deputy Chief of Staff Jason Hancock presented an overview of the budget proposal.
The proposal calls for a $77 million increase in public school funding. Luna built his budget around several recommendations from Otter’s Task Force For Improving Education, including a five-year proposal to reverse cuts in K-12 operational funding, and a transformation of Idaho’s teacher pay model.
Although the funding debate was passionate, it may have been somewhat of an academic exercise. The State Board does not appropriate funds – that task falls to lawmakers and Otter.
State board member Richard Westerberg – the task force’s chairman – appeared to sense the tension in the room Thursday. On at least two occasions, he jokingly asked if members could take an early break for lunch and set the discussion aside until later.
Westerberg stood behind the task force’s work while acknowledging the “sticker shock” reaction to the budget.
“I don’t think anyone on the board or in the room would argue that we have adequately funded K-12 education,” Westerberg said.
Even before Thursday, the budget proposal has drawn mixed reviews.
- When Luna unveiled his proposal on Oct. 1, Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, praised Luna for incorporating the task force’s recommendation into the budget. But Thayn, who sits on the Senate’s budget-writing and education committees, added: “I don’t think we’re going to have quite that much money over the next five years to do all of this.”
- Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, also applauded Luna’s attention to the task force. But Goedde told Idaho Education News the spending increase is “a stretch.”
- Some district superintendents have called for an even bigger funding increase, saying the state isn’t working quickly enough to reverse some of the steepest K-12 budget cuts in the nation.
- And last week, former Gov. Cecil Andrus said it was time for Idahoans “to put our money where our mouth is” if education is truly a top priority.