More charter schools, less Big Bird? What the Trump budget proposal means for Idaho


Charter schools and vouchers

Growing more charter schools and expanding vouchers is a centerpiece of the Trump education budget, but the immediate impact in Idaho is unclear.

Trump proposes adding $168 million to encourage more charter schools. But Idaho has not competed for similar federal dollars for four years, said Terry Ryan, CEO of BLUUM, a program to create new, high-performing school options and the Idaho Charter School Network.

Those federal dollars have come to many states that make a competitive bid for the money and then dole it out for start-up charter school costs to cover many expenses, except buildings.

Ryan said he would favor asking the state to reconsider applying for those additional dollars to increase the opportunity for expanding the number of charter schools beyond 52.

Trump’s push for vouchers is a dead issue in Idaho, because of a constitutional amendment that bars public dollars going to religious schools, Ryan said.

Nonetheless, lawmakers have considered several bills in recent year that would allow tax credits to go to private schools. Penni Cyr, Idaho Education Association president, opposed those measures because they divert public money from public schools. “You are robbing Peter to pay Paul,” she said.

Veterans services

President Trump is seeking a 6 percent increase — $4.4 billion — for the Veterans Administration and wants to continue the Veterans Choice Program, which allows covered veterans to go to private medical providers if the VA can’t help them in a timely manner.

Denny Neibauer, commander of Post 63 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Boise, said Trump’s proposal sounds positive for veterans.

“I think we’re in favor of what he’s asking if it’s going to provide for our vets,” Neibauer said. “We just want fair treatment for fair, honorable service given.”

While he recognizes the VA nationwide has problems, Neibauer praised the Boise hospital for its quality of care.

“We’re extremely lucky in the Boise Valley to have the VA we have here. They go out of their way to help our vets,” he said. “Yes, they’re understaffed, that’s obvious, but they do a heck of a job at the Boise VA.”

Opioid addiction service

The president’s proposed budget calls for a $500 million increase to expand prevention efforts and to increase access for users to treatment and recovery services. Trump called the addiction to prescription painkillers, heroin and other opioids an epidemic that killed 33,000 people in 2015.

“We would look at that as a positive,” said Elisha Figueroa, administrator of the Idaho Office of Drug Policy. “The country is in crisis when it comes to opioid abuse.

It’s unclear, she said, whether the money would prolong existing opioid addiction grant programs or would fund new programs.

“It’s good to know it’s on his radar,” Figueroa said.

Trump also proposed $175 million in additional funds for the Department of Justice to target criminal organizations, drug traffickers and to address violent crime, gun-related deaths and the opioid epidemic.


Even though EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said he would shield cuts to Superfund sites, the budget cuts funding for cleaning up hazardous waste and polluted areas like Idaho’s Silver Valley from $1.1 billion to $762 million. Funding for cleaning up so-called brownfield areas developers seek to redevelop would be eliminated.

In all, the budget would do away with 50 programs that includes Energy Star, which has been used by Idaho Power and others to get builders to build energy efficient homes. Programs for Indian tribes also were proposed for cutting. Cuts to grant programs like the $2.5 million air quality grant to Idaho’s Department of Environmental Quality EPA announced earlier this month, would be cut.

Cultural agencies

Trump’s budget proposal also would eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Their grants support nonprofit groups across the country, such as dance companies, orchestras, art museums, educational programs, historical and literary organizations.

The NEA does grant directly to arts organizations. In the past the Boise Art Museum and The Cabin have both received direct NEA grants. But the majority of the NEA’s funding comes through partnerships with state arts agencies like the Idaho Commission on the Arts, says ICA Executive Director Michael Faison.

It’s left up to the states to give out the money the best way possible in its community.

The biggest impact would be in rural states like Idaho, where about half of the ICA’s budget comes from the NEA, Faison says. In larger industrial states, such as Pennsylvania, the NEA provides about 10 percent of its total arts budget.

Nearly every arts, historical and cultural organization in the state — from Ballet Idaho to the Herrett Center for the Arts and Science in Twin Falls, Idaho Shakespeare Festival to the Boise Public Library and traditional folk art fellowships —have received funds from these agencies.

The Idaho Humanities Council receives about 60 percent of its $800,000 annual budget from the NEH. The Idaho Humanities Council funds programs such as a Refugees in American symposium at the College of Southern Idaho, a project to write a Nez Perce language text book and the “Everybody Reads” program in Lewiston.

“If this were to gain traction and actually happen, our reach would be seriously curtailed,” says IHC director Rick Ardinger.

This fiscal year, the ICA received $780,100 from the NEA. That money funded arts and cultural programs across the state. Any future cuts would be felt deeply in the 2019 fiscal year.

“This is just first stage,” said Faison. “Congress holds all the cards and for many years Congress has shown strong bipartisan support for the all our cultural agencies.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, is vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which funds the NEA and NEH. Simpson has supported and boosted money for these cultural agencies. Simpson has personally invited the two heads of the NEA to Idaho to see firsthand the impact the agencies funding has in small rural areas such as Fort Hall and Jerome.

“I was in D.C. last week and Rep. Simpson assured me we would have his support,” Ardinger says.

Meals on Wheels

The proposed Trump budget would cut federal community block grants that help pay for Meals on Wheels, the nutrition program for seniors.

Metro Meals on Wheels, which provides more than 900 meals a day to seniors in Ada County, does not receive those block grants. Rather, the federal portion of its funding, more than a third of its budget, comes from the Older Americans Act under Health and Human Services. So far, the Older Americans Act is not included in Trump’s proposed cuts, said Grant Jones, Metro Meals on Wheels director.

“That’s a good thing for us,” said Jones.

The Meals on Wheels program in Nampa, administered by the Saint Alphonsus Health System, does rely partially on community block grant funding, said Joshua Schlaich, hospital spokesman. It’s too early to say how the proposed cuts might affect the program, he said. The Caldwell Meals on Wheels program administered through West Valley Medical Center gets its federal funding through the Older Americans Act. It would not be affected by proposed cuts.

Privatizing air traffic control

President Trump proposed handing the Federal Aviation Administration’s air traffic control responsibilities to a private group, with the goal of making the system more efficient and innovative. Efforts to contact FAA representatives in charge of air traffic control at the Boise Airport on Thursday were unsuccessful.

The Boise Airport noted that air traffic control is separate and managed by the FAA. “Regardless of who controls the Boise Air Traffic Control Tower, the Boise Airport will continue to provide safe infrastructure for commercial aircraft, military, general aviation and the traveling public,” it said in a statement.

Public TV, radio

If federal money to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is zeroed out, the impact would primarily affect local broadcasters, especially in rural areas. The impact to Idaho Public Television would be “significant,” General Manager Ron Pisaneschi said Thursday. Annual CPB funding to IPTV is $1.5 million, about one-sixth of its budget.

“We’d have to look pretty seriously at making cuts,” Pisaneschi said.

Ironically, the Idaho House voted Thursday morning to approve IPTV’s budget for next year Thursday morning, following Senate approval earlier. Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, referenced the proposed federal cuts when she presented IPTV’s bill on the floor.

“Big Bird has at least 18 more months,” she said.

IPTV consistently rates at or near the top in per capita PBS station viewership nationally, Pisaneschi said. A national poll conducted in January found broad bipartisan support for public broadcasting, with 1,000 of the people surveyed opposed to funding cuts by more than 3 to 1. That included 83 percent of Democrats, 82 percent of independents and 62 percent of Republicans.

At Boise State Public Radio, General Manager Tom Michael spent part of the morning on air as part of the station’s spring fund drive. CPB funding is 10 to 15 percent of BSPR’s annual budget and provides critical seed money for the public-private funding model that supports operations, he said. CPB’s contribution for TV and radio amounts to $1.35 per citizen annually — 30 cents for public radio—which generates a return 20 times that amount, $6 per person, Michael said.

“Loss of that funding would be a reduction in service,” Michael said. “Whether that’s programming for people in the Treasure Valley, or staff here in Boise, or service to far-flung places like Challis or Salmon or McCall, I don’t have the answer to that at the moment, but it worries me.”

People concerned about funding for public media are being directed to this website.

Work study

Trump’s proposal to “significantly” cut federal college work study could hit at a long-held program that pay students to work on campus.

In 2015-2016, 457 University of Idaho students were enrolled in federally funded work-study and earned $570,000.

“Its been proven work-study is a major factor in retention of freshman and sophomores,” said Jodi Walker, U of I spokeswoman.

“Work study is one of those pools of money that goes to families with lower incomes,” she added. “You are talking about that population that is fragile anyway.”

Boise State University says 222 students were enrolled during the same year in the federal work study program and earned $472,161.

A reduction could prove to be another barrier to helping the state reach its goal of increasing the number of 25-to 34-year-old residents getting post high school training to 60 percent by 2020, up from the 2015 level of 42 percent, educators say.

Legal aid for the poor

Trump’s budget would cut funding to the Legal Services Corporation, which funds the Boise-based Idaho Legal Aid Services. Legal Aid primarily represents vulnerable and poor Idahoans, such as women and children in domestic-violence situations.

“The effect in Idaho would be very drastic, of any budget cut,” said Idaho Legal Aid Associate Director Howard Belodoff. Idaho is one of few states that do not fund legal aid to the poor, he said.

About 63 percent of Idaho Legal Aid’s budget for this fiscal year comes from the LSC, he said. The $1.69 million from LSC helps to pay for Legal Aid’s 20 attorneys. A portion of it goes to the Idaho Volunteer Lawyer’s program.

“Right now, we have offices throughout the whole state,” Belodoff said. “Well, without that, we wouldn’t be able to do that. So there may not be any legal [aid] services in Idaho Falls or Twin Falls.”

Legal Aid also uses the LSC funds to maintain its website, which includes forms and information to handle a range of legal issues.

Keeping low-income homes warm

The budget proposes to eliminate the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

That program, also known as LIHEAP, pays a portion of energy bills for low-income households. It also supports energy-conservation and education programs, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

Last fiscal year, LIHEAP helped 30,659 households in Idaho pay $11.3 million in energy costs, such as home heating bills.

The Trump budget blueprint said the program is “lower-impact” than other public assistance programs and “is unable to demonstrate strong performance outcomes.”

Correction: The number of Boise State University students enrolled in the federal work study program and the amount they earned was incorrect in earlier editions of this story.

Rocky Barker, John Sowell, Anna Webb, Sven Berg and Audrey Dutton contributed

Idaho lawmakers react

2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson: “The Administration’s budget blueprint has given us a sense of what President Trump’s priorities will be in the coming fiscal year,” Simpson said in a statement. “Our subcommittee will do what it does every year; it will scrutinize the request and hold hearings with administration officials to inform our line-by-line funding decisions. The power of the purse ultimately lies with Congress, and it is Congress that will need to strike the balance between cutting unnecessary programs and protecting vital ones that foster economic growth and increase national security.”

1st District Rep. Raul Labrador: “The left is not going to let him decrease non-defense discretionary to the extent that he wants to,” Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) told reporters on Thursday. “We’re going to have to find a different way to balance the budget.”