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May 26, 2024
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Little sets school buildings, water infrastructure and transportation as top priorities

BOISE (AP) — Idaho Gov. Brad Little announced a plan to invest $2 billion over 10 years to repair and improve the state’s neglected school buildings during his annual “State of the State” address marking the start of the legislative session on Monday.

“We’ve all seen the pictures and videos of some Idaho schools that are neglected — crumbling, leaking, falling apart,” Little told lawmakers, members of the judicial branch and others at the Statehouse. “In one school I visited, raw sewage is seeping into a space under the cafeteria. Folks, we can do better.”

Idaho’s school facilities are largely funded through property taxes, which means districts must rely on voter-approved levies when they have big maintenance or expansion projects. The funding method often means districts in higher-income areas, where levies are more likely to pass, have newer classrooms and better athletic facilities while districts in lower-income areas or with voters unwilling to pass levies have leaky roofs and other building woes.

“Let’s dedicate the $2 billion in school facilities now to modernize school infrastructure and address unmet critical maintenance,” the governor said, presenting the funding as a form of long-term property tax relief.

Little didn’t detail exactly how the funding would be allotted, but he said his proposal also included funding for charter school facilities.

Some Republican lawmakers have previously pushed for government programs that would let parents use taxpayer money to send their children to private school. Two of them, state Rep. Wendy Horman and state Sen. Lori Den Hartog, have said they would introduce a bill to create a $50 million “parental choice tax credit” program that would provide parents with $5,000 grants or income tax credits for their kids to attend secular and religious private schools, home schools and other forms of “non-public” academic instruction.

Little didn’t weigh in on that proposal during his speech, but he stressed that he would support a responsible and transparent approach to “expanding school choice in Idaho — one that does does not draw resources away from our public schools.”

The governor also said he wants the state to continue its efforts in expanding and improving its water infrastructure. Little has recommended — and the Legislature has approved — more than $1 billion in additional funding for water-related projects such as improving drinking water and wastewater treatment since he took office in 2019, he noted.

“This is especially important now,” he said. “We have been blessed with ‘good’ water years. But we may be headed into a prolonged drought again, and prudence dictates we prepare.”

Little’s proposal, dubbed “Idaho Works,” also includes additional transportation funding. The state has already allocated $400 million to improve old and dilapidated bridges throughout the state, and Little said his proposal calls for the repair or replacement of the final 300 bridges that are rated poor or predate the moon landing. The bridges would be part of a package that includes $50 million in ongoing funds to bond for $800 million in new transportation infrastructure, he said.

Other proposals include doubling the funding for school advisors, creating a new statewide student behavioral health initiative for suicide prevention, and continued funding for a newly launched scholarship program that Little pushed for last year. The program provides $8,000 to students who enroll in an postsecondary education or training program for high-demand careers.

Little’s budget proposal also includes $32 million for university infrastructure to accommodate the expected student demand in those targeted fields, and nearly half a million dollars for eight new medical residency programs.

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