BOISE -- A list of proposed reforms to overhaul public education in Idaho would carry a $68 million price tag next year and be paid for mostly by increasing class sizes.
That's according to a proposed budget Idaho public schools chief Tom Luna presented to lawmakers Tuesday for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, along with a list of education reforms.
The changes include boosting technology in the classroom and tying some teacher pay to merit.
Public schools, which make up one of the biggest areas of the state budget, were cut by more than $128 million in total funding during the current fiscal year.
Under Luna's proposed budget, only about $14.4 million of that total funding would be restored in the coming year and through a series of changes, money in the public schools budget would be restructured and class sizes increased to pay for the list of new reforms.
Luna suggested consolidating school districts could help eliminate some of the financial strain. His idea would consolidate districts in seven counties, including Canyon. He says consolidating those seven counties could save around $11 million per year.
The seven counties Luna used as examples of the most cost-effective to consolidate are: Shoshone, Payette, Canyon, Gooding, Twin Falls, Lincoln, and Bingham.
Here's how it works: Right now, each district gets state dollars per student. The amount they get is based on district size; the smaller the district, the more money the state pays per student.
By making districts countywide, the state would pay out less per student overall. For example in Canyon County, all districts, from bigger ones like Vallivue and Caldwell, to smaller ones like Wilder and Middleton, would become one countywide district.
Luna says some districts around the state have already chosen to consolidate services and have had great results, but he admits there are certainly concerns for other districts.
"I would say their biggest concern is loss of control when you talk about actually consolidating districts because then you are talking about dissolving a school board and the issues that that would create especially when you have multiple communities involved," Luna said.
Consolidation would have to be a separate bill, and the "Students Come First" plan is not dependent on consolidation.