Students Come First money: Legislature to decide fate of $30.6 million in unspent funds
Idaho’s sweeping education reform laws were overturned by voters in the November general election. But what has happened to the $30.6 million of state tax dollars that were appropriated to implement those reforms?
Between the passage and signing of the Students Come First laws in the spring of 2011 and the defeat of Propositions 1, 2 and 3, which repealed the laws, the Idaho Legislature appropriated money to fund the various agendas entailed in the Students Come First legislation. Now, with voters having rejected the education reform plans, legislators must decide what becomes of the money that was budgeted for them.
Paul Headlee, budget analyst for the state of Idaho, told the Associated Press that there is approximately $30.6 million left “stranded,” in the midst of this process, and lawmakers can choose three different courses as to what to do with it.
One option would be to spend the money restore some of the education programs that were eliminated with the election in November. This would include approximately $850,000 to pay for the “dual enrollment” program, wherein high school students can earn college credits, and nearly $5 million to pay for the hiring of additional math and science teachers. Several local school districts have already begun this hiring process, and are now uncertain about whether or not they’ll have state funds to complete the process.
Another option, according to Headlee, would be to put the money in education “rainy day” accounts.
And the third, and perhaps the more controversial option, would be for the Legislature to appropriate the $30.6 million for entirely different purposes, even for non-educational purposes.
“We’ve got a lot of the taxpayer’s money sitting in limbo right now” noted Rep. Brandon Hixon, R-Caldwell. “I’ll be speaking to my fellow House members on the education committee for clarification on this,” he told IdahoReporter.com. “However, I’d definitely like to see a portion of those funds appropriated back to the dual enrollment program. In Idaho we do a good job of getting students graduated from high school, but we don’t do such a good job on college graduations. Allowing students to earn college credits while still in high school is a huge help.”