Democratic leaders rip proposed K-12 budgets

Two days after the K-12 budgets passed in committee with bipartisan backing, Democratic leaders ripped the spending plan.

The proposed K-12 spending plan “omits a program to make rural school districts more competitive, undercuts professional development for teachers and shortchanges technology advances in the classroom,” Democratic leadership said in a news release Wednesday.

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee budgets would increase K-12 spending by 6.8 percent in 2016-17. That’s less than the 7.9 percent increase requested by Gov. Butch Otter, and the 7.6 percent increase recommended by state superintendent Sherri Ybarra.

JFAC leaders hope to boost the budget with a batch of “trailer” spending bills — funding programs such as Otter’s literacy program for kindergartners through third-graders. GOP leaders say the trailer bills could boost the 2016-17 K-12 budget increase to roughly 7.4 percent — lower than the Otter and Ybarra requests, but in line with the K-12 budget increase approved a year ago.

Democratic leaders criticized JFAC for falling short of the Otter and Ybarra budget requests. They said the current budget proposal would do little to ease the pressure on schools — and the 94 school districts that are backfilling their budgets with supplemental property tax levies.

John Rusche
Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston

“Public education is our most essential investment. Schools shouldn’t have to live ‘hand to mouth.’ It is no way to invest in our children,” said House minority leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston. “Idaho Democrats will continue to work for accountable and appropriate K-12 funding.”

The Democrats’ news release puts the minority party at odds with Republican leadership. On Tuesday, during a luncheon meeting with Statehouse reporters, Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill said the K-12 budget will be the high point of the 2016 legislative session.

But in their news release, Democratic leaders take a harder line than the four Democrats on JFAC, a 20-member House-Senate budget-writing committee.

On Monday, JFAC passed the seven K-12 budget bills unanimously. JFAC Democrats did make a push to put an additional $5 million into school districts’ operational budgets. That motion failed on a party-line vote.