Statehouse roundup, 1.19.24: Lawmakers recommend 3% state pay raises

A legislative committee is recommending what could amount to a 3% raise for state employees.

The proposed raises don’t affect public schools, since K-12 salaries are set locally. But the pay recommendations apply to the state’s colleges and universities — which have used student tuition and fees to cover portions of the raises.

The state employee raises would come in two parts: a 1% across-the-board increase, and merit increases totaling 2%. The merit raises would allow agency heads “to distribute those funds as they see fit for retention and recruitment purposes,” according to a report from the Legislature’s Change in Employee Compensation Committee.

The next step will come Tuesday, when the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee is scheduled to take up the recommendations. Depending on what JFAC does, the committee might also need to revisit the “maintenance” budgets that were approved Tuesday. Those budgets — totaling $5.1 billion, according to the Idaho Capital Sun — included 1% pay raises as a placeholder.

But approving pay raises is only one piece of the puzzle, especially for higher education. Funding the raises is another big variable.

In past years, the Legislature has used general fund tax dollars to cover only a portion of the higher ed pay increases. That has forced the colleges and universities to find the balance from another source, namely student tuition and fees.

That’s what happened this year, when the state’s four-year schools increased tuition and fees for the first time in four years. The cost of pay raises was one driving factor in the tuition and fee increases.

The pay raises recommended Friday are expected to cost about $52.8 million. However, only $27.4 million of this money would come from the state general fund. About $17.4 million would come from dedicated funds — a catchall category that does include student tuition and fees.

The remaining $8 million would come from the federal government.

Survey: Idahoans trust librarians, support private school vouchers

Most Idahoans trust librarians to choose which books are available in public libraries, and a slight plurality would support a private school voucher program if it doesn’t drain public school funds, according to the latest public policy survey from Boise State University. 

BSU’s School of Public Service and Idaho Policy Institute released the results of their ninth annual survey Friday. Unsurprisingly, Idahoans still want the Legislature to prioritize education — it’s claimed the top spot among legislative issues every year BSU has conducted the survey. But there were some surprises in this year’s results.

When it comes to state budget priorities, K-12 public education was second to workforce and affordable housing, an issue that state leaders have largely brushed aside as a private sector responsibility. And for the first time in the survey’s history, more Idahoans than not believe the state is headed in the wrong direction.

Nearly 43% of respondents said Idaho’s on the wrong track. Most pessimistic respondents cited overly conservative political leadership, high cost of living and Californians and other transplants bringing different values to Idaho. 

Newcomers were about 20% more likely to say Idaho is headed in the right direction, while people who have lived here for 10 years or more were 8% more likely to give a negative response.

“The people coming to the state are happy with the direction, obviously, because it brought them here,” said Matthew May, survey research director for BSU’s School of Public Service. “But the longtime residents that have seen the changes over time, they’re the ones that generally have the more pessimistic view.”

And many Idahoans don’t trust the government to fix things. When asked which level of government — national, state, county or city — they trust the most, one third of respondents responded “none.”

Idahoans are so-so on the quality of K-12 public schools, according to a new survey from Boise State University. They’re much more likely to rate their own school district positively compared to to the school system statewide.

Idahoans are generally so-so on the state of K-12 public schools. More than two-thirds rated the quality of K-12 schools fair or better. Fair was the most popular response at 37% followed by good at 29%, and poor at 24%. Just 4% of respondents said the quality of public schools is excellent. 

Those results are very similar to last year’s survey. This year, quality of curriculum was the most common reason (31%) to rate public schools fair or poorly. Another 17% cited low test scores and 17% cited lack of funding. At 15%, teacher pay was fourth. 

But respondents were much more likely to highly rate their home school district. Three in four respondents rated their school district fair or better and just 15% said the quality of their district is poor.

The survey also asked about specific education policies, including some of the most controversial gripping the Statehouse this session. 

One question gauged whether respondents would support a private school mechanism, through which the state would help private school families pay for tuition. Survey-takers were asked if they’d support a plan that allows parents to take the roughly $8,000-per-student the state spends on K-12 public school and use it to enroll their child in a private school. Here were the results: 

  • 49% in favor. 
  • 41% opposed. 
  • 10% not sure.

Responses were divided along partisan lines. Most Republicans supported it, independents were evenly split and Democrats were more likely to oppose it. Respondents overall were more skeptical, however, when asked a followup question: Would your feelings change if the plan “could leave some public school districts with lower overall budgets?” 

  • 42% said they would be less supportive. 
  • 37% said it would have no impact.
  • 13% said they would be more supportive.

“What this suggests is that public support for this policy may depend on the specifics,” said Lantz McGinnis-Brown, research associate with the Idaho Policy Institute.

Other surveys in recent years have tried to measure public opinion on school vouchers but got varying results based on how the question was posed. Two separate polls by the Idaho Statesman and the Idaho Education Association simply asked whether survey-takers would support taxpayer money going to private schools, and responses were mostly negative. 

Meanwhile, BSU’s survey showed Idahoans overwhelmingly trust librarians to do their jobs; 69% of respondents said they trust librarians to “choose the books that are made available at Idaho public libraries.” Here’s how the responses break down further: 

  • 37% said “a lot of trust.” 
  • 33% said “some trust.” 
  • 15% said “not very much trust.” 
  • 8% said “no trust.” 

Those results come as Republican lawmakers for the third consecutive year are pushing legislation to create new penalties for libraries that host content considered “harmful” to children. 

High school students to speak at Women’s March

The Idaho Women’s March is scheduled to return Saturday, and this year’s lineup will feature several young speakers, including 16-year-old Yvonne Shen.

“While we’ve come a long way when it comes to gender equality, we still have a long way to go, especially in Idaho,” Shen said in a news release. “The Idaho Women’s March gives us an opportunity to make ourselves heard on issues we care about.”

The march will focus on health and reproductive rights, according to organizers. Three other high school students are scheduled to speak, along with House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, Idaho State Director of Planned Parenthood Misti DelliCarpini-Tolman and others.

The event is at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Idaho Statehouse in Boise.

Kevin Richert and Ryan Suppe

Kevin Richert and Ryan Suppe

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. Senior reporter Ryan Suppe covers education policy, focusing on K-12 schools. He previously reported on state politics, local government and business.

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