PRIEST RIVER — As Gov. Brad Little addressed Idaho residents in his State of the State and budget addresses on Monday, his primary focus, he said, is education.
“A strong education system helps ensure we keep our best and brightest here in Idaho,” Little said.
Prior to the start of the 2019 session, Sen. Jim Woodward and Rep. Sage Dixon addressed education as well, paying a visit to the West Bonner County School District during its December board meeting. The duo discussed some of the hot button issues in education, such as the public school funding formula and the teacher career ladder.
Dixon previously sat on the Public School Funding Formula Interim Committee, which spent the past three years drafting a proposed funding formula for recommendation to the 2019 Legislature. Under the proposal, public schools would be funded based on enrollment rather than attendance.
WBCSD Superintendent Paul Anselmo said he would prefer the district be paid for the kids enrolled in the school. Attendance-based funding is difficult, he said, because the district still has to have enough staff to teach as if every kid walked through the doors of the schools.
“So I think the enrollment based is a great idea,” Anselmo said.
As Dixon will no longer serve on the committee, Anselmo thanked Dixon for his work on the funding formula and what he said must have been a “thankless job.”
“It was a huge puzzle to try and solve but I think we did a really good job to do the best we could for everybody in the state and to make sure our small districts were being taken care of,” Dixon said. “... The chairman of the House (Education) Committee has made a statement that he wasn’t happy with what we came up with, so that concerns me a little. The chairman was on the committee with us, so he has a good handle on it and what we were trying to do there, so I do think there is a potential it will change.”
Woodward was appointed to the Senate Education Committee as one of his two committee assignments, and said this will be the final year of the teacher career ladder.
“I think that the five-year plan worked well, but I also think we should have started to implement a plan … now we are at year five and we don’t have a plan,” Woodward said. “When you have a large organization, like the state education system, we should have a five-year plan and a 10-year plan and a 20-year plan, and those should get updated annually or biannually. That’s where I will try to make a difference, to put that idea out there.”
Dixon said there is discussion of helping teachers in rural areas with tuition incentives for those who promise to work in Idaho schools for five years.
“It doesn’t necessarily fit directly into the career ladder teacher salaries, but it would help with retention and bringing teachers in,” Dixon said.
One of the questions posed to the legislators was if Medicaid expansion will affect funding for education. Dixon said in looking at other states, Medicaid expansion has cost “far above” what was anticipated. There are too many incentives, he said, for people to forego private insurance. Also, the federal government can stop funding 90 percent at any time and drop it down, for example, to 70 percent, leaving the state responsible for 30 percent.
“So yes, that’s my answer … It is going to affect our budgeting process,” Dixon said. “I don’t know how much, but looking at what’s happening in other states, I don’t see how we can avoid that.”
Woodward said Health and Welfare and the Department of Corrections could are starting to take larger percentages of the budget as well. There is talk about a new prison, he said, which would come with a cost of $500 million.
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