Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna recently revealed his requested education budget for the next fiscal year – a department that typically takes up about half of the budget for the entire state, and which for next year amounts to almost $1.4 billion, a 6 percent, or $77 million, increase.
Actually, it’s unusual for us to know what is in Luna’s budget, or that of any other state department head, this early. Until a few years ago, though department heads submitted their budgets in September, the figures were typically not released until the Governor made his State of the State speech in January, when people would hear both about the amount requested and about the Governor’s recommendation. After that, the Legislature – through the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee – would agree on a budget.
However, a few years ago, Luna began publicizing his budget requests when he submitted them. The advantage is that people could then put pressure on legislators to, presumably, pass or defeat the budget. In addition, revealing the budget also meant that Luna could put all sorts of goodies in the budget and then, if the Legislature took them out, he could say it wasn’t his fault, and that he had tried.
This year, Luna didn’t submit his budget request until October, because the year-long Governor’s Task Force for Improving Education didn’t agree on its 20 recommendations until August 23, and Luna wanted to include those recommendations in his budget request. So in September he asked for an extension until October 1.
Those recommendations added up to some $350 to $400 million. Luna also said he wouldn’t prioritize them himself, but let the Legislature do it, saying that the Task Force felt all of them were necessary, and that he agreed.
All that said, here’s what Luna recommended for the 2015 budget, which will run for the fiscal year starting July 1, 2014.
• $42.2 million for increasing teachers’ starting salaries to $33,000
• $16.5 million to the districts, to begin replacing the $82.5 million the districts lost from their budgets during the recession
• $5.6 million to pay for dual credit programs for juniors and seniors, which means they’ll be able to get college credit for courses taught in high school
• $12.2 million for teachers’ professional development, an increase of $8.5 million from this year
To make things even more complicated, the DFM recently announced that revenues for this fiscal year, which started on July 1, are running way over projections. Idaho’s state tax revenue was nearly $16 million ahead of forecasts in September, beating the forecasted level by 6.4 percent and putting the state 1.6 percent ahead of forecasted revenue for the fiscal year to date. In past years, the Legislature has been cutting the public education budget, saying it had to because of the recession.
As the economy has recovered, the Legislature has been putting money back into the budget stabilization rainy-day funds, which were largely drained. The Legislature also gave tax cuts to Idahoans in the upper tax brackets and to corporations, plus cut the personal property tax that businesspeople pay on the equipment their companies own, rather than replacing the money cut from education budgets in the previous years. There may be enough money to increase the education budget this year, though whether it’ll be enough to raise it by the full amount requested by the committee is unlikely.
It will be interesting to see what Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter recommends, and what the Legislature passes, but we’ll need to wait until January to see the Governor’s recommendation, and late March to early April to see what the Legislature decides.