Three months after voters overturned his Students Come First education laws, state schools superintendent Tom Luna presented a 2013-14 budget proposal that touches on several themes from the campaign.
Luna asked the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee to put $10.4 million into school technology, saying the state cannot afford to abandon the effort. He also wants the Legislature to restore 1.67 percent of the teacher pay base, money that had been earmarked for Students Come First, while raising the starting teacher salary from $30,500 to $31,000.
The $1.31 billion general fund request represents a 3 percent increase from 2012-13 — and a rewrite of the budget Luna drafted in September. “We know that a lot has changed since September, and changed quickly.”
Rupert Republican Sen. Dean Cameron, a JFAC co-chair and an opponent of Students Come First, said Luna sounded “humble (and) sincere” and open to new ideas. “I believe it’s a good blueprint, a good starting ground.”
Cameron’s co-chair, Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said the budget covered the basics — but she acknowledged Luna is in an awkward position. “I think it’s difficult to regroup.”
Following Gov. Butch Otter’s lead, Luna wants to give Otter’s education reform task force $33.9 million of spending authority. Otter assembled the task force in the aftermath of the Nov. 6 election — charging the group to come up with reform proposals by the 2014 legislative session. The task force will hold its second meeting Friday.
Luna’s endorsement of the task force is of little surprise; he is among the group’s 31 members. But while this budget proposal has backing from Luna and Otter, the idea of funding the recommendations from an appointed panel could run into resistance from elected legislators — particularly JFAC, the Legislature’s powerful budget-writing panel.
Luna’s budget differs from Otter’s budget on several points.
The first difference is the bottom line. Luna seeks a $37.9 million general fund increase for K-12, a 3 percent increase. Otter proposed a 2 percent increase.
Luna seeks to increase starting teacher salary from $30,500 to $31,000; Otter does not. Both Luna and Otter want to restore 1.67 percent to the teacher salary pool.
A closer look at Luna’s request reveals other differences and wrinkles:
- Luna wants $10.4 million for school technology programs. Despite the outcome of Students Come First, Luna said teachers are deploying technology in the classroom, and the state must continue investing in it. “We need to treat technology like a utility.” Otter’s budget does not include a technology line item.
- Luna wants $6.45 million for the Idaho Digital Learning Academy, a $1.4 million increase designed, in part, to accommodate enrollment growth at the state-sponsored online school. Otter seeks $9.6 million for IDLA.
- Luna requests $4.9 million to continue the Schoolnet student monitoring program, and $3.2 million to continue professional development to help teachers and administrators use the program. Neither line item appears in Otter’s budget proposal. The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation funded Schoolnet with a $21 million grant, with the expectation that the state would assume ongoing costs.
- Luna wants $4.85 million to continue hiring additional math and science teachers, a component of Students Come First. Otter does not recommend this line item.
- The Luna budget includes $3.755 million for professional development, to support the implementation of core standards. Otter does not recommend this line item.
- Luna wants $250,000 for dual credit programs, allowing high school students to earn college credits. This was another element of Students Come First, although the 2011 Legislature established a pilot dual credit program. This is not included in Otter’s budget.
- Luna is seeking $150,000 to reconvene a task force on school safety, in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., shootings. Luna convened this task force in 2007, his first year in office. Otter has asked retired Idaho State Police director Jerry Russell to review school safety, but Otter’s budget does not fund a task force.
In a news conference Thursday, Luna said the differences reflect a different approach to budget-writing, not a disagreement over priorities. While Luna worked several line items into his budget, Otter opted for a basic budget that covers statutory requirements and includes a 2 percent funding increase.
Disclosure: Idaho Education News is funded through a grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.