Statehouse roundup, 1.18.23: Lawmakers take a look at classified staff funding gap

The House and Senate education committees took a closer look Wednesday at one of Gov. Brad Little’s key priorities for this year — filling a nearly $100 million funding gap for school staff. 

According to a December report from the Office of Performance Evaluations, local districts and charters (together called local education agencies, or LEAs) pay an extra $97.4 million per year beyond what the state provides toward wages and benefits for classified staff — the non-teaching K-12 employees who do much of the grunt work needed to keep schools running, like driving buses, serving meals, and assisting teachers. Districts fill the gap by running supplemental levies or pulling funds from their discretionary budgets.

Stagnancy in the funding formula, which determines how the state allocates dollars to public schools, is one reason the gap persists. Though the demand for classified employees has only gone up, the formula for classified staff hasn’t changed since the 1990s.

Casey Petti

And the governor is calling for a 4% pay increase for all state employees, including classified staff, but ultimately, policy decisions are up to the Legislature.

The committees heard reports on the funding gap from Casey Petti, senior evaluator at the Office of Performance Evaluations.

The funding gap for classified staff is particularly wide, Petti told Senate Education members. For every dollar the state provides for classified salaries, districts and charters wind up paying $1.59 in salaries. By comparison, for every dollar the state provides for teacher pay, districts and charters pay $1.09; for every dollar the state provides for administrator salaries, districts and charters pay out $1.23.

A few legislators asked about the nitty-gritty of the report, including whether specific employees are or are not classified and how much money goes into healthcare coverage.

Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, suggested that an additional study on administrator costs could be informative. She said she believes there’s a direct correlation between administrative pay and the funding gap.

“It’s easy to take a very myopic view and say ‘Well, we’re just not paying enough,” Ehardt said. “There are a lot of reasons. I think you’re trying to hit a few, but there are a lot of reasons.”

Petti reported that districts are, on average, hiring fewer administrators than they are receiving state money for, but hiring nearly 300 more classified employees — a number he says would be higher if schools weren’t already experiencing staffing shortages.

OPE Director Rakesh Moran said the office may be able to pull some of Ehardt’s requested data without going through the official evaluation process. Typically, OPE requests go through the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee, and reports take around nine months to publish.

In the Senate hearing Wednesday, Sen. Brian Lenney asked about some of the policy recommendations — such as putting more money into the existing funding formula that allocates money for classified employees. Noting the overall increases in the state’s K-12 budget, the Nampa Republican likened the approach to pouring more money into a leaky bucket.

Petti noted that numerous factors — including a tight labor market — make it harder for schools to recruit and keep classified employees. “A lot of it cannot be solved by money.”

Moscow senator seeks to repeal concealed-weapons restrictions on college campuses

A bill to lift concealed-weapons restrictions on college campuses made its debut Wednesday.

The Senate State Affairs Committee introduced Senate Bill 1008, which would allow “the otherwise lawful possession, carrying, or transporting of firearms or ammunition” by any person holding a concealed-weapons permit.

Sen. Dan Foreman, R-Moscow, is sponsoring the bill. The retired police officer said the bill would “restore Second Amendment rights” and “actually enhance safety,” according to a report from Ryan Suppe of the Idaho Statesman, who wrote on the bill Wednesday.

The bill could come back to a Senate committee for a full hearing at a later date.


Kevin Richert and Sadie Dittenber

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