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Luna: Economic Crisis Will Affect Idaho Ed Budget

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Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna says he plans to trim his proposed budget of $1.5 billion to reflect a dour state revenue forecast — the product of the national economic crisis in housing and the financial markets.

In September, Luna asked for a fiscal 2009 budget that would be $77 million more than the budget for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

"A lot has changed since Sept. 1 and what we're dealing with now wasn't even on the horizon," Luna told the Coeur d'Alene Press. "I don't want anyone to think I'm operating in a vacuum here, that I'm not aware of the reality that we find ourselves in financially."

In late September, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter ordered a 1 percent, $27 million budget holdback for virtually all state agencies, the first in Idaho since 2002.

Otter's cost-cutting comes after state economists issued new tax revenue forecasts that were 5.9 percent lower than those from February.

A dim housing market, higher unemployment and national financial market turmoil have provoked fear an economic slowdown could intensify.

"Families are struggling, and it's not just one part of the sector that's struggling, either," Luna said. "Everyone is struggling. So, it's going to have a huge impact on the budget we actually put forward and work with the Legislature to get approved."

Even so, Luna said there are programs so important they should be funded even in hard times, including a statewide dual credit program, an ongoing initiative to increase the math skills of Idaho students, and his $5.2 million program to give teachers an additional $350 apiece to purchase classroom supplies so they don't have to dip into their personal piggy banks.

And Luna said about 40 percent of the $77 million in additional money he requested, or about $30 million, is needed simply to pay for growth based on an anticipated 4,000 to 5,000 new students entering the state's public school system next year. He also said he'll fight to preserve a proposal for a merit-pay plan for teachers, one of his priorities since he took office in January 2007.

"I'm a firm believer that at least a portion of what teachers make should be tied to student performance," Luna said.

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