Little outlines plan to cut public school funding by $99 million

Teachers would be frozen on the state’s salary career ladder, and technology and IT funding would be reduced, under a new plan to cut K-12 funding by almost $99 million next year.

Gov. Brad Little put the plan forward Friday. Idaho Education News obtained Little’s memo Friday afternoon.

The 5 percent holdbacks are not a surprise. School administrators and state agencies have been bracing for possible cuts since last month. But in a memo sent to school district and charter administrators, Little laid out his blueprint to cut the K-12 budget. And he laid out the predicament plainly; without the cuts, Idaho will not balance next year’s budget.

“It is clear due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, that the expenditures from the general fund authorized by the Legislature for the fiscal year 2021 will exceed projected state revenues,” Little wrote.

The 5 percent cuts would apply to the fiscal year 2021 budget, which begins July 1, and affect K-12 and all state agencies.

In the letter, Little said education has been his highest priority since taking office last year. But the COVID-19 pandemic has created a new reality.

“Earlier this year, the Legislature passed significant investments for public schools for FY 2021,” Little wrote. “Unfortunately, we now face a new economic reality caused by the pandemic that was not anticipated when the budget was set.”

Here’s a look at the cuts Little outlined:

  • $26.6 million: Freezing movement of instructional and pupil services staff on the career ladder.
  • $21.1 million: Cutting discretionary funding by 3 percent, bringing the new distribution factor of $27,556 per classroom unit.
  • $19.3 million: Suspending leadership premium financial bonus distributions for one year.
  • $10 million: Reducing classroom technology funding, from $36.5 million to $26.5 million.
  • $10 million: Reducing the professional development training line item funding, from $22.5 million to $12.5 million.
  • $5.1 million: Suspending the 2 percent base salary raises for administrators and classified staff.
  • $4 million: Reducing IT staffing line item funding.
  • $1.6 million: Reducing the content and curriculum line item.
  • $1 million: Reducing the central services budget.

“The goal of my plan is to minimize the impact on public education and to ensure that any budget reductions are implemented in a way that is least disruptive to students and educators during the unique and difficult time,” Little wrote.

Little sent the plan out now so district leaders will know what to expect with next year’s budget, and can use that information as they start negotiating salaries and setting local budgets, said Greg Wilson, Little’s education liaison.

The budget, and the cuts, remain a moving target. The new budget year begins July 1. When the new budget year begins, Little said he will issue an executive order reducing general fund spending “based on the updated revenue projections at that time.” He will also work with the Legislature during the 2021 session to suspend requirements for distributing the funds.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra and her budget staff will provide district leaders with more information on the budget cuts next week.

“We appreciate receiving this plan from the governor and look forward to going over the budget reduction and details with the district folks in next week’s webinar,” Ybarra said in a statement released Friday.

The 5 percent holdbacks mark the second consecutive day of grim budget news in Idaho. On Thursday state officials announced revenues for the month of April missed the mark by $470 million, falling 60 percent short of projections.

Clark Corbin

About Clark Corbin

Reporter Clark Corbin has covered Idaho government and education for more than a decade. He’s followed every legislative session, gavel-to-gavel, since 2011. Clark is a co-host of the Extra Credit podcast with Kevin Richert published on Fridays. You can follow him on Twitter: @clarkcorbin. He can be reached by email at [email protected]

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