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Higher education budget sees a boost, bill heads to governor's desk

Posted at 10:32 AM, Mar 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-22 12:32:26-04

BOISE, Idaho — Just one year after lawmakers voted to cut Idaho’s higher education budget, a new appropriation bill gives colleges and universities in the Gem State a state-funded boost.

On Wednesday, Senate members approved a $643 million budget for Idaho’s four-year postsecondary institutions in a 30-5 vote.

While passing the higher education budget is going smoothly this year, it has not always been this easy for lawmakers. Amid a fury of curriculum disputes and claims of indoctrination, Idaho legislators voted to cut state spending on higher education by about $2.5 million during the 2021 session.

Related: New teacher salary, higher education budgets emerge

The vote came after multiple debates about whether colleges pushed a social justice agenda on students. The concerns later culminated into Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin spearheading an indoctrination task force that aimed to protect youth from a “scourge of critical race theory, socialism, communism and Marxism” teachings in Idaho educational institutions.

Related: Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin announces new task force

Janice McGeachin

Despite lawmakers taking several actions to ensure Idaho schools could not teach social justice theories in class – including passing controversial legislation — some officials were still hesitant to give higher education more funding.

“The only tool we have is the budget. If they’re not going to listen, if they’re going to subterfuge, if they’re going to misdirect, the only tool we have is the budget,” Republican Rep. Vito Barbieri from Dalton Gardens said last week. “Higher education is necessary, but higher indoctrination, not so much.”

The new appropriation, which would fund higher education during the fiscal year 2023, is an approximate 2% increase from last year.

Following the 2021 session, Boise State University and the University of Idaho commissioned independent investigations into the indoctrination allegations. Both institutions hired Hawley Troxel, a Boise-based law firm – to review operations and determine if claims made by lawmakers and conservative political groups were factual.

According to online versions of the reports, neither investigation found evidence of wrongdoing.

“The entire social justice narrative on which the University of Idaho was penalized $500,000 was a false narrative created by conflict entrepreneurs who make their living sowing fear and doubt with legislators and voters,” U of I President Scott Green told lawmakers in January.

Scott Green
University of Idaho President C. Scott Green appears before the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee Friday.

If passed, the higher education budget would include:

  • A $25 million increase in state general fund dollars 
  • Money to help cover 5% pay raises for college and university employees, which Gov. Brad Little has proposed 
  • A one-time payment of $4 million to Boise State University from the Higher Education Stabilization Fund to offset raises given to BSU employees last year