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Dialogue between Idaho’s lawmakers, educators ongoing

As Idaho’s legislature prepares for its second week in session, lawmakers are focusing on budgets for the upcoming year.

With dozens of school districts relying on supplemental levies to stay afloat, education remains at the center of the budget conversation.

Two school superintendents from eastern Idaho have voiced the same concerns in recent weeks.

Jefferson County Joint School District 251 faces a one-million dollar deficit if taxpayers don’t support a $3 million supplemental levy, just as Bonneville County Joint School District 93 gets ready to ask for their fouth multimillion-dollar supplemental levy since 2007.

Superintendents from both districts are asking for help from lawmakers like state Rep. Jeff Thompson (R – Idaho Falls).

“Higher education and public school K-12 education, that’s over 60 percent of our general fund budget. So in my mind, it ranks number 1 (in importance),” Thompson said.

Thompson sits on the Joint Finance Appropriations and Economic Outlook Committees.

He has already met with superintendents from eastern Idaho to talk possible solutions.

“What I heard, over and over again, was concerns about the money that was in the ballot initiatives — propositions that were voted down — what happens with that money,” Thompson said of a recent meeting with superintendents.

Roughly $40 million statewide is up for grabs in the wake of failed education reform laws. Some superintendents say that money is still not enough.

“We’ll get some of it,” District 93 superintendent Chuck Shackett said. “Even if we get it all, we’re still not reaching those numbers.”

JFAC has also reviewed and agreed with Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter’s proposed budget, which calls for a 3.1 percent increase to the state’s general fund, raising it to almost 2.8 billion dollars. Last year, 60.9 percent of the general fund went toward education. Otter wants to raise that by an extra 2 percent.

“Increasing funding 2 percent just covers the growth,” Shackett said. “If we have growth more than the 2 percent of the funding, then were going to lose money.”

No budgets have been finalized.

“It’s going to take time,” Thompson said, of increasing state funding to public schoools. “It’s going to take time as the economy progresses and improves.”

JFAC will hold budget hearings for public education throughout the entire week of Jan. 21.

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