Education budget hits speed bump

March 29, 2013

For many years I worked heavy industry in the construction trades and at a cement manufacturing facility. Because that line of work has its share and then some of accidents, safety is very much a priority. History shows a very consistent pattern of events precedes almost every serious or fatal accident.

There will be several insignificant events, then a few minor accidents, some close calls, and so on. Unless corrective action is taken, the cumulative affect builds like a pyramid towards a lost time accident or loss of life.

Although not nearly as dramatic as an injury or fatality, the variables that foreshadowed the demise of H 323 were unmistakably present. In my opinion three key things caused the education budget to stall.

More by consequence of habit than the fault of individuals, the process has wandered off course. In a perfect world the House and Senate Education committee’s should be the place policy is set. This allows for the kind of public input needed particularly in the education arena. The Joint Finance and Appropriation Committee (JFAC) then work to see if proposed policy and dollars match.

However in challenging budget years JFAC was forced to become involved in policy in order to help make sense of the bottom line. They did a yeoman’s job of this and I’m not sure they will ever be appreciated enough for helping guide Idaho through tough times.

This year it seems that unspoken gentleman’s agreement allowing committee’s to cross those lines of responsibility is sun-setting. I believe it is due to a couple of key policy decisions that came out of JFAC. They are the line items for pay for performance (PFP) and increased spending for technology. Sound familiar?

We all recognize those from the repealed “Students Come First” laws. There is 12.6 million for PFP and 3 million for technology pilot projects. The obvious heartburn is the reintroduction of policy the public rejected. I have always believed there is a place for both of these ideas but the wounds are still fresh and we must have public input. To me the solution is not as difficult as some fear. If we excuse ourselves from PFP and the extra technology funding we have 15.6 million that could be directed to discretionary spending for schools. This brings us to my third point.

In FY 2008 the state appropriated 350 million for discretionary spending. The proposed amount for FY 2014 was 288 million or 62 million less. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory exposes the problem. Maslow stated there is a specific order in which we need things for survival. We first need air, water, food, and shelter. Then we can set our goals on things like safety, civility, love, esteem, and personal growth.

Our schools are no different. We don’t have the luxury of funding extras in lieu of basic needs. That is the importance of discretionary spending. The message from districts has been consistent. If we can’t pay the power bill or repair the roof it’s a little tough to run a school.

Granted, if we place the 15.6 million in discretionary spending it may is still not be enough, but it’s a step in the right direction. I have already shared my opinion to Senate leadership that we need to further augment this line item in the next budget effort.

It’s unfortunate that we are dealing with this budget, this late in the session. However it would be disingenuous to ignore the uneasiness that led us here. The budget bill, H 65 which restores over 30 million in education funding and other education bills, have all spent time in the hostage pool. The session will linger a few more days as things get sorted out but if we can improve the process and trust levels we’ll be better off. And that’s no accident.

Idaho State Journal 3/29/13