Budget blowback: What does it signal?

Bill Goesling
Bill Goesling

Was last week’s blowback over Tom Luna’s K-12 budget proposal a one-shot deal, or a sign of deeper discontent?

When two State Board of Education members criticized the state superintendent’s proposal, they said the $77 million increase would come at the expense of higher education.

Whether that’s true or not, State Board members Bill Goesling and Milford Terrell called attention to something important: no budget will be considered in a vacuum. That includes the Luna budget, which includes a first installment on implementing recommendations from Gov. Butch Otter’s education task force.

Milford Terrell
Milford Terrell

Among the recommendations: restoring $82.5 million in “operational funding” stripped from school district budgets during the recession. It’s expected to take five years to replace this money.

The task force’s premise is that the public schools have suffered due to the recession-era cuts in operational funding — which can cover everything from health care and benefits to utilities and transportation. But it’s not like public schools have suffered alone, as this comparison between 2008-09 and 2013-14 general fund budgets shows. (Budgets shown are in millions of dollars.)

Agency 2008-09 2013-14 Change
Public schools $1,418.5 $1,308.5 -7.7 percent
Colleges/universities $285.2 $236.5 -17.1 percent
All other education $175.1 $143.0 -18.3 percent
Total education $1.878.8 $1,687.9 -10.2 percent
Health and Welfare $587.3 $616.8 +5.0 percent
Adult and juvenile corrections $215.9 $218.3 +1.1 percent
All other state agencies $277.3 $258.0 -7.0 percent
Total $2,959.3 $2,781.0 -6.0 percent

Public schools certainly took a hit during the recession, and at a greater rate than state government as a whole. But Goesling, of Moscow, and Terrell, of Boise, can certainly argue that higher education sustained deeper cuts during the recession.

And if there’s a push to make public schools whole, and undo the cuts made during the recession, then university presidents and other state agency heads are almost sure to make the same argument on their behalf.

This, in turn, poses a challenge for Otter, if his budget proposal makes a similar play to restore operational funding. (A fair assumption, since Otter has already spoken in support of restoring the budget.)

The task force — a 31-member group of elected officials, business leaders and education stakeholders — had the relative luxury of looking at public education’s needs in a vacuum. Not surprisingly, the proposal to restore operational budgets enjoyed unanimous backing.

When legislators start looking at the budgets, and the competing demands of state government, the debate could take on a different tone.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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