The challenging economic times of the last several years have made all state budgets tight; state revenues have decreased by about one-fourth (almost one billion dollars) over a two-year period. Public education was the last of Idaho's budgets to see cuts, and was shielded, for good reason, from the harshest reductions. Idaho's K-12 budget has been reduced 14 percent since 2009, while other state agencies have taken much more significant cuts to protect K-12 public schools. Parks and Recreation has been cut 92 percent, the Department of Environmental Quality 30 percent, the Department of Agriculture 60 percent, and higher education 26 percent, to name a few examples.
Still, the K-12 budget reductions have caused districts across the state to find efficiencies and face tough decisions in recent years.
But, while our neighboring states continue to deal with staggering budget deficits—Washington state's Democratic governor has proposed $1 billion in additional cuts to its education budget this year—Idaho's prudent fiscal management in these tough times, coupled with the restructuring accomplished through Students Come First, means Idaho may enjoy a welcome, if modest, budget increase for education next year.
Amid the budget cuts of last year's legislative session, lawmakers pledged to fund education first if revenues outperformed the legislature's expectations. That pledge, and better-than-anticipated revenues, led to an unexpected $60 million disbursement to Idaho's schools this July. This was great news! The $60 million more than restored the $48 million in cuts made during the previous legislative session.
Now, I have proposed making this additional $60 million an ongoing part of the education budget next year and in the future — increasing the public schools budget by 5 percent.
Each year, as State Superintendent, I must submit a budget request to the Governor's Office in early September for the upcoming fiscal year. This year, I worked closely with the Governor on this budget request and asked for a $61.7 million (5.1 percent) increase for Idaho's schools in FY2013, the 2012-2013 school year. This is a responsible and sustainable request that will, if revenues meet expectations, allow Idaho to move away from a dependency on one-time moneys and fund important education initiatives.
The budget request also will allow us to follow through on one of the commitments we made last legislative session: backfilling money reallocated from salary-based apportionment as soon as funds became available.
In the FY2013 budget request, we have requested funding for two critical components of education reform: (1) Idaho's pay-for-performance plan and (2) mobile computing devices and associated professional development for high school teachers. I believe both of these can now be funded with new revenues.
Pay-for-performance is an important part of Idaho's new education system going forward. It accomplishes one of the goals of the Education Alliance of Idaho and gives Idaho educators the opportunity to finally be rewarded for the hard work you already do each and every day. This statewide pay-for-performance system has also put Idaho in a good position to qualify for a No Child Left Behind waiver, which will allow our state to move toward a growth model of accountability. Idaho's pay-for-performance plan was developed and agreed to by all of Idaho's educational stakeholders as part of Idaho's Race to the Top application.
In addition, the budget request provides for a 2.38 percent increase in base and minimum salaries, which slightly more than offsets the money to be reallocated from salary-based apportionment this year by Idaho's reform legislation. The net effect is a fully funded pay-for-performance bonus system for teachers, and mobile computing device implementation, with no reduction in base salaries. In fact, the pay-for-performance bonus funds that will be distributed in November 2012 will represent approximately a 5 percent increase in state funding for teacher compensation.
The budget request also includes a 2 percent increase in discretionary funding for local school districts.
Times are still tough. We are still below the funding levels we enjoyed more than three years ago. But it's clear that times are gradually getting better.
Idaho is a small and responsible state; we can do a lot with a little. It is heartening to see potential budget increases in our state, even as our neighboring states must face the unenviable task of continuing to cut education. Idaho's newly restructured education system frees us from the annual predicament of trying to find more money to maintain an unsustainable model and gives us the flexibility to weather the extended, slow-growth recovery our nation is experiencing. My budget request for the coming year allows us to maintain salary-based apportionment levels, reward our teachers through pay-for-performance, modernize our classrooms, and invest in our students' futures. An additional $60 million isn't a panacea for the education challenges spurred by this economy, but with many states struggling to meet budget forecasts or facing more deep cuts (Colorado is proposing another round of cuts—to the tune of $89 million to the K-12 budget alone), we can be thankful to be heading in a positive direction.