The first two weeks of the 2020 session have flown by. From Day 1, we’ve been busy, and few places have been busier than the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC).
I love serving on JFAC. We listen carefully to Governor Little’s recommendations and the different agencies’ requests. We then ask questions and assess each submission carefully to measure needs and wants to produce a balanced budget as required by Idaho’s Constitution.
Many of those needs flow directly from the law. For example, a large portion of the K-12 budget comes from a formula that first appeared in Idaho Code back in 1994. We haven’t made many big changes since then.
In that formula, there’s a spot for the estimated number of support units or classrooms during the coming year. There are other factors in the equation, too, including things like the number of special education students, and whether a school district qualifies as rural. But the K-12 budget depends in large part on decisions legislators made years ago.
So, the only way to change a large part of the K-12 budget is to change the formula defined by the law. You may have heard some of these formula discussions over the last few years. This process is what’s being debated. What formula will we use to divvy up how much money each school receives? Before we can change the budget, there needs to be a change in the law.
Maybe you’ve also heard some discussion about teacher pay. Idaho’s current career ladder appears in the law, too. Based on that law, we have specific legal commitments for teacher pay, like the decision last year to raise starting teacher pay to $40,000/year by 2020.
Many of our budget decisions don’t happen in a vacuum. Prior legislators made a commitment through Idaho’s laws, and today, we’re accountable for meeting those commitments while balancing other priorities.
I understand how important it is to spend your tax dollars responsibly. So, please know that I take your emails, phone calls, and questions about how and where we spend your money seriously.
With more people deciding to call Idaho home every year, those decisions carry even more weight because more people depend on us to get it right. More parents depend on us to make smart choices about funding for education. More business owners depend on us to maintain a reliable infrastructure. More Idahoans depend on us to match services and demand without overcommitting our resources.
We must get it right, and it begins with making sure you have the chance to share your thoughts.