About 350 people came to a meeting at Idaho’s capital Monday night which lawmakers called an education listening session. Many signed up to share their thoughts on issues facing public schools. One theme rose to the top, education funding, or the lack of it.
Of the 37 people who testified in the allotted two hours, about half stressed investing more money in schools. There was an even split on the priority for those dollars. One group wanted the state to increase charter school funds and the other wanted more funding for traditional districts. Allan Millar, a charter principal from Sandpoint and interim executive director of the Idaho Charter School Network, told lawmakers charter schools did fine with state funding before 2008.
“As I’m sure you’ve noticed, there was this thing called the Great Recession and times have changed,” Millar said. “Here is a partial list of what our school has had to do to remain viable. Freezing and then cutting salaries, ending prep times, finding new health care options, and expanding class sizes.”
Charters and traditional school districts get the same amount of state money per student. But many charters struggle with building funds. The charter advocates argued that traditional districts can pass supplemental levies and they can’t.
But several who spoke for small rural districts said it’s not that simple. Erica Kemery, the superintendent and principal of the south Lemhi School District listed several of the cuts her district has made.
“A single special education student requiring a fulltime aid could be what tips us over the financial edge,” Kemery said. “We simply don’t have the option of running a levy, because our rural communities are too poor.”
The state of Idaho is beginning to restore more than $200 million in cuts to education. The Department of Education has requested a 3 percent increase for the coming fiscal year. If lawmakers approve that budget, it would put state education spending a little higher than 2007 levels.
Copyright 2013 Boise State Public Radio