JFAC talks about status of K-12 savings account — but stands pat

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee checked off a box Wednesday morning.

The Legislature’s budget-writers discussed the status of Idaho’s savings account for schools. But the committee took no action.

First, the status: At the end of December, Idaho had $80.7 million in its Public Education Stabilization Fund. That’s after the state made a $16.6 million withdrawal from the account in July.

The withdrawal covered several expenses — primarily the state’s advanced opportunities program. The program allows junior high school and high school students to earn college credits on the taxpayer’s dime. And the program is growing rapidly, necessitating a $9.5 million withdrawal out of the savings account.

The withdrawal also included $2.8 million to cover the teacher salary career ladder, $2.2 million for transportation costs and $800,000 for the Idaho Digital Learning Academy.

Now, for the reason for the hearing: It’s required under a 2017 state law.

Pushed by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, the law requires JFAC to “consider” transferring money back into the savings account to cover any withdrawals. The transfer isn’t mandatory, but the discussion is. Hence Wednesday’s hearing.

PESF, the K-12 budget reserve, is one of three state savings accounts, designed to cover state budgets in the event of an economic downturn.

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