Luna budget holds line on technology

Tom Luna is seeking a $77 million budget increase for K-12 in 2014-15 — but none of the new money would go into classroom technology.

Instead, the superintendent of public instruction is recommending a hold-the-line technology budget of $13.4 million, and he acknowledges that this money is far from enough.

Tom Luna, Meridian, 10.1.13
Tom Luna discusses his budget proposal with reporters after a Meridian Chamber of Commerce luncheon Tuesday.

“We’re not even coming close to meeting the demands or the needs,” Luna said Tuesday afternoon, after outlining his budget proposal at a Meridian Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Luna says he wants to wait on results from the state’s 11 technology pilot plant schools. On July 1, the State Education Department awarded $3 million in pilot grants, allowing schools to test a wide variety of computing devices and online learning strategies.

Less than two months into the school year, Luna says it’s too early to know much from the pilot schools — and he also says it’s too early to know whether the state should bankroll a second round of pilots. Luna’s budget proposal recommends another $3 million in pilot projects for 2014-15. But this money could turn out to be a placeholder, and could be moved into other technology programs.

The remaining $10.4 million, also unchanged from the 2013-14 budget, would go into two areas. Districts would receive $8 million, which they could use to buy computing devices or digital learning materials or shore up online connectivity. The remaining $2.4 million would go into the second phase of a controversial multiyear contract to install WiFi in Idaho high schools and junior high schools.

Luna’s 2014-15 budget proposal was written to include some of the most expensive recommendations from Gov. Butch Otter’s education reform task force. The Luna budget includes $42 million to fund the first year of a teacher career ladder — a salary boost that could cost $253 million over six years. Luna also wants to put $16 million back into school districts’ operating budgets, a first step in restoring $82 million over five years.

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The task force wasn’t silent on technology — recommending “technology devices” and learning materials for every student, as well as universal broadband and wireless in every school building.

But the task force was silent on the potential costs. And the costs of the pilot programs vary widely.

Spending $200 per student per year on technology — a ballpark figure that would cover many, but not all, of the pilot projects — would run the state about $55 million. Here again, said Luna, the state would need to gradually increase budgets over several years to reach $55 million.

Luna’s hold-the-line proposal on technology spending comes less than a year after voters roundly rejected his three Students Come First laws — including Proposition 3, which would have provided each high school student with a laptop.

More reading: Here’s a link to our ongoing series on the technology pilot project schools.