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Idaho education board approves extra $7.5M for state’s community colleges

The state Board of Education has voted to approve $7.5 million in additional funding for Idaho’s cash-strapped community colleges.

The board called a special meeting July 11 to vote on the extra funding, which comes from the surplus Idaho is carrying forward into this fiscal year.

The money is going toward the colleges because of agreements Idaho made with the federal government on funding levels for education when receiving some $50 million last year to preserve teaching jobs, said the board chief fiscal officer Matt Freeman.

Lawmakers set state general funding for community colleges at about $23 million for this year, down from about $25 million in the previous year. The additional one-time money for the schools will bump up their state general fund appropriation this year to more than $30 million, which is unprecedented.

The previous high was $28.6 million in fiscal year 2008.

“It’s going to be substantial for them,” Freeman said.

Of the $7.5 million, the board approved more than $5 million in additional one-time funding for enrollment growth the College of Western Idaho in Nampa. Nearly $1.8 million was approved for North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene and about $667,000 for the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls.

“I can tell you at North Idaho College, the money will be put to very good use,” said school president Priscilla Bell, who is retiring next year.

Bell is among community college presidents who have reported swelling enrollments amid declines in state funding for higher education in recent years. In January 2010, Bell reported student enrollment at the college had increased an estimated 20 percent compared to the same time in the previous year.

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t the College of Western Idaho, president Bert Glandon told lawmakers this year his enrollment had doubled to more than 7,000 students since 2010. The additional money approved by the board will help “mitigate the massive enrollment increases,” Glandon said.

Idaho tax revenue was running more than $60 million ahead of projections for the fiscal year that ended June 30, though official numbers have not been released.

A bulk of that extra tax revenue was expected to go toward public education to ensure the state complies with the maintenance of effort requirement that came along with federal stimulus and education jobs funding.

The state Department of Education has estimated Idaho’s K-12 public schools could receive up to $50 million, though state officials have not yet disclosed the exact amount.

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