Education groups oppose highway funding plan

With a vote pending on a bill that could divert general fund dollars into highway projects, the leaders of three prominent education groups are urging lawmakers to reject the idea.

“There should be no higher priority than investing in our children’s future and this plan would destabilize the main funding source for that priority,” said Karen Echeverria, executive director of the Idaho School Boards Association, in a joint news release Monday.

The ISBA, the Idaho Association of School Administrators and the Idaho Education Association collaborated on the release — which seemed aimed as much at Gov. Butch Otter as it was at legislators.

In his Jan. 12 State of the State address, Otter said he would oppose any bill that siphons general fund dollars into road work.

“The education stakeholder groups support Governor Otter’s position on this issue and encourage the Legislature not to put education and transportation in the position of competing against each other for general fund dollars.”

The Idaho Transportation Department now receives no general fund dollars. But this could change under House Bill 260, an $81.7 million spending plan that would boost the gas tax, transfer fees and fees on hybrid and electric cars. The bill would also transfer money out of the general fund for highway projects, when state revenues increase by more than 4 percent in one year. Based on 2014 numbers, this bill would have had a $12.5 million effect on the state general fund.

House Bill 260 was on the docket for a House vote Monday, but action was postponed to Tuesday.

Here’s the ISBA/IASA/IEA news release:

“Three prominent education stakeholder groups stand united in their opposition to any proposed legislation that would divert money from Idaho’s general fund for the purpose of transportation funding. The Idaho Education Association, the Idaho School Boards Association and the Idaho Association of School Administrators all adamantly object to any plan that would siphon off funds that are needed to ensure that Idaho’s public education system meets the needs of children and communities throughout the state.

“’Because all education funding in Idaho comes from the general fund, diverting money to other projects would have a detrimental impact on our ability to adequately fund public schools and pay teachers,’ said IEA President Penni Cyr. ‘At a time when it seemed as if our leaders were recognizing the crisis that we face in providing resources to attract and retain quality teachers, pulling money out of the primary funding source for education seems shortsighted.’

“Those sentiments were echoed by Karen Echeverria, executive director of ISBA. ‘Our districts have been struggling with funding shortfalls for several years now, and taking this action would further undermine our efforts to move education in Idaho forward,’ Echeverria said. ‘There should be no higher priority than investing in our children’s future and this plan would destabilize the main funding source for that priority.’

“Rob Winslow, IASA executive director, also weighed in. ‘This proposed legislation would do a disservice to everyone involved in education in Idaho — principals and administrators, school boards, teachers and most importantly, students.’

“The three education stakeholder groups recognize that Idaho’s transportation and infrastructure needs have been neglected for too long, as well. However, they strongly encourage the Legislature to identify other revenue streams to address this issue rather than siphoning money away from the general fund, which is currently the State’s only source for public education funding. Any reduction of funds from the general fund automatically and unequivocally means a reduction from education funding, which is something that Idaho simply can’t afford.

“Gov. Otter even made this point in his 2015 State of the State Address when talking about transportation funding. ‘I will NOT entertain proposals aimed at competing for general fund dollar tax dollars with education and our other required public programs or services,’ Otter said. The education stakeholder groups support Gov. Otter’s position on this issue and encourage the Legislature not to put education and transportation in the position of competing against each other for general fund dollars.

“The IEA, ISBA, and IASA are all encouraged by the recent progress towards adequately funding teachers’ salaries and hope that the Legislature will do the right thing and take advantage of the many other possible avenues available for funding transportation that do not impact the general fund.”