Idaho Schools Chief Asks For Big Funding Increase, But Lawmakers Rarely Oblige

Oct 2, 2013

Luna unveiled his budget proposal Tuesday in a speech to the Meridian Chamber of Commerce. Here he is talking with audience members afterwards.
Credit Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

Idaho’s school superintendent Tom Luna released his budget request for next year Tuesday. Luna is asking for a $77.8 million bump in state spending for education. That would be a 5.9 percent increase. That’s how much the Legislature increased education spending in 2007, the year before the financial crisis. Since then, the education budget has seen big cuts, and more recently, modest increases.

Here’s how it usually goes. Luna recommends a pretty big education funding figure. Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter recommends a smaller one, and the Legislature passes an even smaller spending plan.

Last year, Luna asked for a 5.1 percent increase, the governor recommended 3 percent, Luna later revised his closer to the governor’s figure and the Legislature passed a 2.2 percent education funding increase.

During the 2007 legislative session, the year lawmakers authorized the 5.9 percent increase, Luna asked for 7.2 percent. The next year he asked for 7 percent and got 3.7 percent. Cuts began after that. In the 2012 session, lawmakers started to restore some of those cuts with an increase pretty close to both Luna and Otter’s recommendations.

This year, Luna’s proposed funding increases come from the recommendations of the governor’s task force for improving education. Otter has also endorsed these recommendations in principle. Luna now echoes some of Otter’s comments about implementing these ideas over the next five or six years. So this year the superintendent and governor might be more in sync on education spending than in the past. But Luna still has to sell task force recommendations to lawmakers.

“I think sometimes there’s a knee-jerk reaction to say this all sounds good but where are we going to get the money. I don’t think that’s an acceptable response,” Luna says. “So stay at the table, let’s follow the example of the task force. And that would be my ask of legislators.”

Governor Otter has said his top priority for the 2014 legislative session will be to restore school district operational money cut during the recession. That accounts for $16 million of Luna’s proposed increase. That’s his second biggest request after $42 million to raise teacher salaries. Luna also wants more money for high school students to take college credit and $13 million for professional development.

“Any number of these do cost money but they’re also specific deliverables that can be measured and shown that they bring about improvement,” Luna says. “My experience is the Legislature is willing to get behind and fund these kind of ideas.”

After you factor in federal money, which Luna’s office is estimating will be completely static, the plan represents about a 5 percent increase in total education spending for Idaho, or $1.68 billion. That’s still $12 million less than FY 2009 before state budget cuts began.

Copyright 2013 Boise State Public Radio