Statehouse roundup, 3.16.17: Late-session budgets take shape

Senators approve superintendent’s budget

Superintendent Sherri Ybarra’s budget for fiscal year 2018 was unanimously approved, without debate, by the Idaho Senate on Thursday.

The $38.8 million budget represents a zero percent increase from the state’s general fund and an overall decrease of 5.1 percent from all funds. It includes a 3 percent change in employee compensation for the limit of 142 full-time employees.

Ybarra’s budget also includes $100,000 for the first year of a five-year plan to redesign the Idaho Reading Indicator, a screening test for kindergartners through third-graders.

School funding formula committee

Legislative budget writers voted to fully fund the K-12 school funding formula interim committee’s work this year.

On Thursday, members of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee approved a so-called trailer bill that would earmark $400,000 for the committee.

The K-12 school funding formula committee was created by the 2016 Legislature, and spent last year meeting with educators, listening to the public and studying the state’s existing funding formula. This year, committee members want to get back to work, hire a financial analyst or consultant and use computer programs to simulate the impact of funding model changes in Idaho. The committee is also expected to deliver recommendations to the 2018 Legislature.

Unchanged since 1994, Idaho’s existing school funding formula is a complicated attendance-based model that drives the flow of about $1.7 billion in general fund spending from the state to its school districts and charters each year.

Critics of the funding formula say it does not reflect a 21st century education environment and was created before the proliferation of dual credit courses, charter schools, online learning and student mobility.

The committee’s work is being closely watched because public schools are Idaho’s largest annual expense.

The school funding formula committee’s co-chairs Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, and Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, said the $400,000 will go toward hiring a financial analyst or consultant and purchasing computer models and software.

“The really heavy lift comes from this point forward,” Winder told the House Education Committee last month.

The full House and Senate must still consider and approve the $400,000 funding trailer bill in order for the funding formula committee to receive the money.

Public Charter School Commission term limits

In other action Thursday, the Senate Education Committee gave its blessing to a bill that would remove term limits for members of the Public Charter School Commission.

Under current state law, charter commissioners are limited to two, four-year terms. House Bill 254 would delete those term limits from state law.

Sen. Dean Mortimer

Senate Education Committee Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, urged passage of the bill. Mortimer said charter school leaders asked for the change amid turnover on the commission.

Without mentioning him by name, Mortimer also noted that the commission’s current chairman, Idaho Falls dairy owner Alan Reed, would be term-limited next year unless the law is changed.

Mortimer said some charter school advocates would like to see Reed and other members be allowed to serve for more than eight years if that is the will of Gov. Butch Otter and legislative leaders.

Otter, House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, and Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, are responsible for appointing charter commission members.

House Bill 254 next heads to the Senate floor for consideration. It cleared the House 59-11 on Tuesday.