Otter's plan hits educationPosted Wednesday, January 13, 2010, at 1:49 PM
Gov. Butch Otter's proposed budget for next year is a realistic appraisal of the sad state of the economy.
It also is a painful plan, one that will hurt many state operations, including education, which will see at least a $20 million cut.
Unfortunately, education, especially at the local level, which relies on state funding for 90 percent of its budget, simply cannot take any more hits.
The "pad" in their budgets disappeared years ago. Electives and enrichment programs that kept kids interested in school and helped point them toward post-graduation careers have been slashed by school districts all across the state.
Staff has been cut, eliminating most aide positions, reducing the number of teachers and thereby increasing the number of students in each classroom, which studies have repeatedly shown have an adverse impact on learning. We wouldn't want to be in the shoes of any school superintendent facing a fourth consecutive year of budget cutbacks.
Otter has always believed strongly in education. When he first took office, when the state actually had a decent revenue stream, one of his primary goals was increasing the scholarship money available for students who wanted to go on after graduation and attend college. His latest budget proposal will probably result in fewer students having the necessary skills or desire for further education.
At a time when drop-out rates are at an appallingly high level (one in three high school students won't graduate), taking away the "extra" classes beyond just "reading, 'riting and 'rithmatic," that are so important to a well-rounded education and inspiring students to get more education, is a step in the wrong direction.
We don't have any great answers for the state's budget crunch. Education hasn't been hurt as bad as some state programs in recent years, but the cuts have hurt and these latest ones will, we believe, be devastating.
We'll be paying for it in the quality of our workforce and the future of our children far beyond the point at which funding is eventually restored.
Costs of enjoying Idaho go up
Among the proposals Gov. Otter is sending to the legislature this year is a plan to reorganize the state's parks and recreation programs -- moving the parks and rec department into the state Department of Lands -- and to adjust the fees Idahoans will pay to take advantage of the natural resources available in Idaho.
The reorganization may make sense (actually, it does on many levels) and hopefully save taxpayers' dollars through administrative consolidation, but the plan to raise fees in the state's parks, or impose them in areas where they haven't been charged, is one of those things that will stay with us forever.
Once those increases go into effect (if approved by the legislature), no matter how much lawmakers may say they will only be temporary, until the economy recovers, the inertia of government virtually guarantees that they will stay there. Remember, for example, the famous "Penny for Benny," the first state sales tax (at 1 percent), which was only supposed to be a temporary measure. Today, it's still going strong, and has risen to 6 percent.
These changes may be necessary, but don't believe for a minute they will ever be temporary. The price of enjoying Idaho's natural wonders will permanently go up.