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Leaving it to the expert

After going several fruitless rounds over how best to divvy up state education dollars, Idaho's legislative budget writers recently agreed to an unusual way out of the deadlock: They let the state schools chief decide.

Members of the legislature's joint finance-appropriations committee voted 13-7 on March 30 to give Superintendent Marilyn Howard the authority to distribute the state's $930 million education budget.

Marilyn Howard

The lawmakers said it mattered little that Ms. Howard is an elected Democrat in the state with the nation's most heavily Republican-dominated legislature.

The education budget is now awaiting Gov. Dick Kempthorne's signature following its April 3 passage by the Senate on a vote of 30-5. The House had approved it 40-17 on March 31.

"My initial purpose was to break the logjam," said Rep. Robert C. Geddes, the Republican who proposed delegating the budgetary power to Ms. Howard. "We were trying to put a lot of strings on money, couldn't come to an agreement, and finally concluded we were not the experts."

Lawmakers warned that the move should not be seen as a precedent for the future. And Ms. Howard noted that only roughly $50 million out of the total budget was really left to her discretion. The rest is allotted by law, or will shore up existing programs.

Still, she said, the legislators' move "was a surprise, to say the least."

"Education can be very nonpartisan," Ms. Howard added. "We're not talking about political agendas, we're just talking about what will best serve our kids and our communities."

Ms. Howard said she would devote $38 million to raising what the state contributes to educators' salaries, and give districts discretion over how to spend the remaining funds. Once implemented, the move would up the state contribution to starting teachers' salaries from $20,900 this school year to $22,000 in the fall.

—Jessica L. Sandham

Vol. 19, Issue 31, Page 32

Published in Print: April 12, 2000, as State Journal

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