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Education money in limbo

Since Idaho voters defeated Propositions 1, 2, and 3, a pile of money – $37.4 million – the Legislature had earmarked for education is not being used. So what’s going to happen to it?

“Well, my goal is to keep it in education,” said State Superintendent of Education Tom Luna. “But if you look at the governor’s budget, it’s a pocket of money for reform. When the Legislature allocated these dollars last year and the year before, it was to reform schools. And so in order to keep it in education, I think it’s going to have to focus on some form of school improvement, and that’s what I’ll focus on.”

Luna took a lot of heat for his idea of reforming Idaho classrooms with the three propositions. But as chief of schools, he said, he will fight to make sure that earmarked money doesn’t get used for just any broadbased reform idea from the governor.

“I don’t want that money to be used for personal property tax relief. I don’t want it to be used to fix the health care mandate,” said Luna. “It’s education dollars, but in order to keep them in education, it has to focus on school improvement, or I don’t think we’ll have the support in the Legislature to keep those dollars in our education budget.”

Mike Lanza, head of the campaign that opposed Propositions 1, 2 and 3, agreed.

“That should go to schools,” he said.

Lanza said school districts outlined their budgets under these laws in good faith, but now that the laws are gone, it’s no secret districts are in a financial pinch.

“If they don’t get this money from the state, they’ll have to make cuts. And everybody knows our schools have had deep cuts for years now,” said Lanza. “The Legislature has the power to correct the situation just for a year. Schools are not facing a budget crisis because we repealed the laws. But they will face a budget crisis if the Legislature doesn’t send them the money they are due.”

There is some question as to whether the Legislature will in some way punish voters who opposed the reforms by sending this money somewhere else.

“No, I don’t think so,” said Rep. Douglas Hancey, R-Rexburg. “I think there may be some people with a personal idea. But I think they’ll rise above that and rise above that agenda and do that which is right because there’s a lot of legislators, me included, that’s gonna stand up and say, ‘Put the money on our children. That is the future of Idaho.'”

One thing everyone can agree on, though, is that Idaho’s education needs help.

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has appointed a committee to assess the Gem State’s education system and make suggestions for possible reform.

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