Task force subcommittee debates school budget priorities

With deadlines drawing near, a subcommittee of Gov. Brad Little’s K-12 education task force debated priorities and flexibility for schools and budgets.

The budget stability subcommittee of the “Our Kids, Idaho’s Future,” task force has been building toward several potential recommendations this summer.

Those include:

  • Creating a loose budget overview and forecast. Based on current trends — and absent major shakeups — subcommittee chairman Kurt Liebich forecast the Legislature would have about $118 million in new education funding, for each of the next five years.
  • Prioritizing rebuilding the state’s rainy-day account, by increasing its balance and by minimizing future withdrawals. For weeks, the committee focused its discussion around the Public Education Stabilization Fund (PESF). But on Wednesday, subcommittee members wondered if instead of bolstering the education-specific PESF, the committee should focus on Idaho’s general rainy-day account, the Budget Stabilization Fund. The subcommittee has not decided which fund to prioritize, nor has it settled on a balance for reserves.
  • Retaining several budget earmarks, usually called line items, in their current form. The list includes line items for literacy intervention, advanced opportunities and college and career advising.
  • Giving local school leaders budget flexibility by “collapsing” other line items into discretionary funding. That means specific funding earmarks for programs would go away in favor of allowing superintendents and school boards to prioritize where they want to spend money. The subcommittee has not yet finalized a list of specific line items to collapse.

Pete Koehler, a subcommittee member and former deputy state superintendent of public instruction, said he has concerns about increasing accountability for superintendents while at the same time delivering strict mandates on how they must spend every penny of state funding.

“What I struggle with is holding people to more accountability through flexibility and, oh, but at same time, telling you, ‘Actually, here is what you can and can’t do,’” he said.

Liebich spent a good portion of the meeting stressing that the Legislature won’t be able to implement every task force recommendation at the same time, because of limited revenues.

“The reality is, when we look at putting a price tag to the major initiatives coming out of the various subcommittees, there has to be a prioritization effort or staging,” Liebich told Idaho Education News.

The clock is ticking because the four subcommittees are expected to deliver recommendations to the full task force on Oct. 1 in Moscow.

The task force’s other subcommittees are also developing several potential recommendations. None of them are final, but possible recommendations include:

  • Creating a new education accountability system based on growth in K-3 literacy rates, as measured by the Idaho Reading Indicator, with a school’s demographic characteristics factored in.
  • Increasing pay for veteran teachers by adding a third “rung” of the career ladder to pay out up to $60,000.
  • Offering more opportunities for optional, all-day kindergarten across the state.

What’s next?

  • The task force’s teacher pipeline subcommittee meets Thursday morning.
  • The task force’s budget stability subcommittee is scheduled to meet again Sept. 27.
  • The full “Our Kids, Idaho’s Future” Task Force meets Oct. 1 in Moscow.

Clark Corbin

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