BOISE — The joint budget committee approved a $629.8 million higher education budget on a split vote Thursday, including $307 million in state general fund support.

The proposal, which still needs to pass the House and Senate, exceeds the governor’s recommendation by $1.4 million. Overall, it’s a $25.6 million, or 4.2 percent, increase over this year’s budget; state support is up $1.05 million, or 0.3 percent.

The State Board of Education ultimately decides how the state funding is divided between the institutions. However, the fiscal 2021 budget specifically includes $613,400 and 1.66 full-time positions for Lewis-Clark State College for its new Career and Technical Education Center.

The plan also includes a 2 percent general fund reduction for all higher education institutions — part of a statewide reduction Gov. Brad Little recommended for all state agencies, except K-12 public schools.

The 2 percent cut amounts to $6.12 million; of that, $1.89 million is allocated to the University of Idaho and $353,100 to LCSC.

The committee was clearly split on the higher education budget. Three different motions were considered; one conformed with the governor’s recommendation, while the second doubled the funding for occupancy costs — money the institutions receive for new buildings.

The third, which was approved on a 12-6 vote, included the higher occupancy costs and provided an additional $988,700 for Enrollment Workload Adjustment.

The workload adjustment formula reflects changes in enrollment and in the number or type of degrees an institution awards. Since enrollment has been declining at UI, LCSC and Idaho State University, the governor recommended a $988,700 decrease in state support for the three schools.

Had the committee accepted that proposal, LCSC would have taken a $531,000 hit; support for UI would have been cut by another $72,000 hit.

Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, said the workload formula unfairly effects LCSC. He noted that, although the full-time equivalent enrollment is down, academic headcount at the school — the actual number of full- and part-time students — has increased by an annual average of 1.3 percent over the past four years.

Similarly, LCSC has seen an average 7.7 percent increase in the number of dual-enrollment students, who take classes while still in high school. A record 626 bachelor degrees were also awarded last year.

“So all three of those metrics are positive,” Johnson said. “They’re doing good, but they’re being penalized.”

That’s because the workload formula weights degrees, he said. LCSC has seen a dip in the number of associate degrees it awards, and it can’t offer graduate degrees.

Taking all those factors into account, Johnson said the institutions should be held harmless from the Enrollment Workload Adjustment decrease.

Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, agreed with that approach. He also argued that they should be spared the proposed cut in occupancy costs.

Crabtree noted he was recently appointed to a working group that’s trying to develop a long-term plan for how to handle occupancy costs. He supported the budget that passed — as did Rep. Caroline Troy, R-Genesee — saying it gives the new college and university presidents a year to put that plan in place.

“This (budget) is a one-year solution to a long-term problem,” he said.

Also on Thursday, the joint committee approved a $46.5 million budget for the Permanent Building Fund. The money includes $2.5 million for LCSC’s Career and Technical Education Center, on top of the $10 million that was appropriated in 2017.

Spence may be contacted at bspence@lmtribune.com or (208) 791-9168.

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