Otter, lawmakers consider deposits into K-12 piggy bank

The state took $20.8 million out of its public schools savings account to cover unexpected expenses.

And that means Gov. Butch Otter and the 2018 Legislature will have to decide whether to put money back into the bank.

State budget analysts expect the Public Education Stabilization Fund to carry a $65.3 million balance on June 30, the end of the 2017-18 budget year. That would be the smallest year-end balance since 2013.

Growth is driving the two biggest transfers out of PESF. The state is taking out $8.9 million to fund the career ladder salary plan — and provide raises to teachers added during the 2016-17 school year. Another $7.4 million will go to cover unexpected costs in Idaho’s advanced opportunities program — which provides high school students with a $4,125 line of credit to take college-level classes.

PESF is important because it cushions the K-12 budget against the unexpected. That can be a relatively small variable — such as the growth in the advanced opportunities program — or a seismic shift in the budget. During the Great Recession, the state used PESF to shield public schools against further spending cuts, and nearly zeroed out the account in the process.

Otter’s budget proposal includes a $32 million transfer back into PESF. Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, a key member of the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, says she wants the state to at least replenish the money withdrawn from the account.

The 2017 Legislature passed a non-binding law that requires budget-writers to at least consider replacing funds pulled out of PESF.

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