House Republicans killed the fiscal 2022 higher education budget on a near-party-line vote Wednesday in Boise, after blasting colleges and universities for allegedly trying to indoctrinate students in liberal values.
The legislation failed on a 57-13 vote. Rep. Caroline Troy, R-Genesee, was the only Republican to support the measure, along with all 12 House Democrats.
In an unusual move, the bill’s floor sponsor encouraged lawmakers to vote against the legislation, asking that it be sent back to the joint budget committee for a do-over.
“This budget was drafted approximately six weeks ago, and I think we all recognize the ground has potentially changed in that time,” said Rep. Paul Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene.
The college and university budget has become a cause celebre for a growing number of Republicans, because of their concerns about social justice or “critical race theory” classes and programs.
In their view, such programs do nothing but cause dissension by dividing the world into aggrieved minorities and oppressive, typically white, majorities. Many have heard horror stories from students about the type of classes or perspectives they have to endure. Consequently, they’re demanding that state funding for the institutions be cut to discourage them from promoting such views.
“I’m pleased to hear the sponsor wants us to vote no on this bill,” said Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg. “What a no vote does is say we’re rejecting this budget — but it doesn’t say we’re rejecting higher education. I think we’re all aware of the problems going on in higher education in Idaho. This puts the spotlight on Idaho values, American values and what higher education should stand for.”
Based on a report from the conservative Idaho Freedom Foundation, Nate estimated Idaho’s public colleges and universities were spending about $20 million per year on social justice programs. He didn’t think it was necessary to cut that full amount, but he suggested trimming at least $4 million from their budget.
“We ought to give that kind of direction (to the joint budget committee), that we expect a significant cut, and want the universities to demonstrate that they’re willing to make changes,” he said.
House Democrats seemed taken aback by the outpouring of animosity from Republicans regarding Boise State University and the other institutions.
Rep. Chris Mathias, D-Boise, said being exposed to social justice concepts is critical if Idaho students and workers want to compete in the global marketplace.
“I won’t be voting no on this budget, because I don’t want to send the message to colleges and universities that they shouldn’t be doing their small part (to address) this much bigger challenge,” he said. “I don’t think we should take away more of the few resources we provide to universities.”
The $631.4 million higher education budget included $315.2 million in state general fund support. That’s an increase of $8.1 million, or 2.6 percent, in state funding compared to fiscal ’21.
Another factor that’s changed since the budget was initially set is passage of the federal American Rescue Plan.
The joint budget committee learned Wednesday that the act will provide about $87 million in coronavirus relief funds to Idaho’s four public colleges and universities. That includes an estimated $20.75 million for the University of Idaho and $6.8 million for Lewis-Clark State College.
At least half the funds must be used to provide financial aid grants to students.
Spence may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 791-9168.