Update 2/16 - The hearings on possible cuts to education have been delayed as lawmakers assess the potential impact of the federal recovery money on Idaho's budget situation. Read coverage here and here about two bills introduced last week that threaten to use the current short-term crisis to do permanent damage to education.
In the face of upcoming hearings on cuts to public education, Idaho Democratic lawmakers this week urged Idahoans to contact state officials with ideas on how to minimize those cuts and preserve future opportunities for our state.
The Idaho Legislature’s House and Senate Education Committees plan three days of joint hearings February 16-18 to talk about budget cuts to public education and possibly enact legislation to allow those cuts. Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna recently outlined $62 million in cuts for fiscal year 2010, which starts July 1, and he has said that deeper cuts may be necessary.
“Education is the best and most powerful road to economic opportunity,” House Minority Leader John Rusche said. “Yet it’s a road we won’t be able to travel if we make drastic cuts to public schools and higher education during this downturn.”
Democratic lawmakers have been showing leadership by meeting with superintendents, teachers and school boards statewide to learn how local communities will be affected by the education funding issue, and they are urging Idaho citizens to have their say as well. Luna has a “suggestion box” (http://www.sde.idaho.gov/site/forms/SchoolsBudgetComments/default.asp) on the Department of Education website seeking public input on education funding, and citizens may want to use that and calls to state lawmakers to remind officials that amid the current recession, the Legislature and Department of Education must:
· Use any educational funding available in the federal recovery package. We cannot afford to pass it up.
· Use a greater portion of the rainy-day funds that Idaho taxpayers put away for times like these. It’s raining now.
· Focus on teachers and classrooms. Now is the time to forgo unnecessary testing and administrative burdens.
· Consider a temporary moratorium on new charter schools, rather than raising the cap on how many new charter schools may open each year.
· Make any major changes temporary so that they can be examined when we are not “under the gun.”
· Grant maximum flexibility to local school districts to address local needs.
· Remember that the Idaho Constitution has two important mandates: that the Legislature balance the state budget and “establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools."
“Like all Idahoans, we understand the need for fiscal responsibility at this time,” Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly said. “But we must guard against deep cuts that will result in a sharp decline in overall educational services. We need to remember that educational opportunity is the single best way Idaho can attract and keep good jobs during the downturn and once the recession is over.”