The state of Idaho withdrew more than $30 million from an education rainy-day fund in the recently completed budget year, to cover unmet expenses and deal with enrollment increases.
The money primarily went into three areas, according to Legislative Services Office documents:
- $14.4 million for teacher salaries and benefits.
- $8.4 million for school busing.
- $4 million for student advanced opportunities programs.
As a result, the Public Education Stabilization Fund’s balance dropped from $93.8 million to $62.2 million.
Idaho runs its books on a fiscal year that begins every July 1. The rainy-day account withdrawals occurred during the 2018-19 fiscal year that ended on June 30.
The public schools’ rainy-day account is important because it can be used to help soften holdbacks or cuts in the event of a recession or lean budget year. In response to the Great Recession, lawmakers nearly drained the rainy-day fund. The balance dipped as a low as $11.2 million in the 2011 fiscal year before lawmakers were able to start building the balance back up.
Legislators and policymakers monitor reserve account balances closely.
This summer, a subcommittee of Gov. Brad Little’s Our Kids, Idaho’s Future K-12 education task force is focusing on budget stability. During its first meeting, a state economist briefing the group predicted there is a 30 percent chance of an economic recession in the next three years.
A year-end budget monitor report from the Legislative Services Office showed the withdrawals were necessary because the number of school “support units” exceeded the three-year average by 3 percent, due to enrollment increases. The school budget is built on the support unit — which generally corresponds to one classroom. Support units were up by 46.4 compared to the three-year average.
As a result of the increased support units, the Legislature did not appropriate enough money to meet its 2018-19 obligations for salaries, busing and advanced opportunities.
“Increased student enrollment was the primary reason for the withdrawal,” LSO officials wrote.
Overall the state closed the books on the 2018-19 budget year with a positive cash balance. The difference between revenues and expenses was $104.3 million, which was $17.5 million less than the Legislature expected when the session adjourned for the year.