Idaho education board members criticize Luna's budget

They are worried big expenditures will cost higher education.


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Idaho State Superintendent of Education Tom Luna.

CHRIS BUTLER — Chris Butler/Idaho Statesman file photo

Idaho State Board of Education member Bill Goesling ripped into Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna's budget proposal on Thursday, calling the 5.9 percent spending increase "unacceptable."

Goesling said an increase in public school funding would come at the expense of Idaho's colleges and universities.

"I find this to be just an unacceptable increase in numbers," Goesling said during the board's meeting in Lewiston. "I think at some point the board is going to have stand up and say, 'This is not going to work for higher education.'"

Goesling suggested board members — who are appointed by Gov. Butch Otter — make a separate recommendation to the governor.

Luna's K-12 budget proposal does not factor in higher education spending, and it does not call for cuts in any other budgets.

Luna, an education board member, was in Boston attending a conference.

Since unveiling his budget earlier this month, Luna has sought feedback on his proposals, which align with Gov. Butch Otter's Task Force on Improving Education. If "people have ideas on how to do it differently, we are open to that," said Melissa McGrath, Luna's spokeswoman.

Luna has also said the task force proposals are a road map toward increasing the number of students who go into post-secondary education, and to reduce the need for remedial classes in subjects such as math and language arts once they get there, McGrath said.

Although he was perhaps the most vocal critic of Luna's proposed budget, Goesling was not alone.

"The fact is these numbers are staggering when you look at where we are going and what we are doing and who is going to be robbed in this whole spectrum of moneys," said board member Milford Terrell.

Terrell said he understands public schools and universities are both seeking a restoration of Great Recession-era budget cuts.

The debate flared up as Luna Deputy Chief of Staff Jason Hancock presented an overview of the budget proposal.

The proposal calls for a $77 million increase in public school funding. Luna built his budget around several recommendations from Otter's task force, including a five-year proposal to reverse cuts in K-12 operational funding, and a transformation of Idaho's teacher pay model.

Those recommendations were backed unanimously by the 31-member task force — which included four members of the State Board, but not Goesling or Terrell.

Although the funding debate was passionate, it may have been somewhat of an academic exercise. The State Board does not appropriate funds — that task falls to lawmakers and Otter.

Board member Richard Westerberg — the task force's chairman — stood behind the task force's work while acknowledging the "sticker shock" reaction to the budget.

"I don't think anyone on the board or in the room would argue that we have adequately funded K-12 education," Westerberg said.

The Idaho Statesman contributed to this report.

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