With state revenues coming in ahead of expectations, the Idaho Education Association is calling on Gov. Brad Little to reverse holdbacks to the public school budget.
On Wednesday, IEA President Layne McInelly said Little should use increased revenues to prioritize funding for schools and unfreezing teacher pay.
“Dealing with the virus dictates that schools need more personnel and resources, not less,” McInelly said.
The timing is no accident.
On Tuesday the state released new reports showing revenues have exceeded forecasts by more than $69 million in the two months since the budget year began July 1.
Before the budget year began, Little called proactively for 5 percent holdbacks to this year’s budget due to concerns about an economic slowdown and fears that state revenues could drop off. The holdback is different than a budget cut. It means schools will receive 5 percent less than the budget the Legislature originally approved.
The holdback to the public schools education budget amounted to almost $99 million. Little called for freezing teacher pay this year as part of the plan, estimating it would save $26.6 million. Freezing teacher pay means teachers will remain at the same spot on the career ladder salary allocation system as last school year.
McInelly said reversing the holdbacks would go a long way. Veteran teachers could get a raise. Schools could hire larger custodial staffs to focus on cleaning and disinfecting as more districts return to face-to-face instruction. Administrators could also hire additional counselors, nurses and psychologists to address students social-emotion needs, McInelly said.
“We’ve been saying for a long time the social-emotional needs of our students are a priority and this money could help prioritize personnel,” McInelly said in a Wednesday afternoon interview with Idaho Education News. “We’ve had a global pandemic and students have been isolated for months and months now. We know we are going to have more social-emotional needs of our students.”
Without releasing specifics, Little announced earlier Wednesday that he will conduct a press conference Friday at the Statehouse to discuss educational funding and supporting Idaho parents. Little said Idaho education leaders will join him, but he did not release further details.
The IEA is not the only group to call for Little to reverse the funding holdbacks. Last week, education advocates including RISE TVEP, Reclaim Idaho and a group called Totally Optimistic Advocates Dedicated to Students (TOADS) submitted a petition asking Little to refund 1 percent cuts to last year’s budget, reverse the 5 percent holdbacks to the current budget and restore what they estimated to be a 7 percent, $21.5 million cut to higher education funding over the past two years.
Little’s budget chief said this week’s revenue report was good news. But he expects Little to proceed with caution because there are 10 months to go in the budget year and many uncertainties remain around the budget and pandemic.
“You will see us continue to approach the budget with cautious optimism,” Division of Financial Management Administrator Alex Adams said Tuesday afternoon.