House quickly approves 7.4 percent increase in school funding

For the second time in five days, legislators raced through 2015-16’s largest state budget, approving a 7.4 percent increase in public school funding without any debate.

On Monday afternoon, the Idaho House followed the Senate’s lead by quickly and overwhelmingly approving the seven school budgets in about 30 minutes.

Rep. Horman
Rep. Wendy Horman, standing at center, presents the public school budget Monday at the Statehouse.

“A lot has been said about education this year, and a lot of focus has been around the career ladder,” said Idaho Falls Republican Rep. Wendy Horman, who helped set and carry the school budgets. “I want you to know the bills coming before you today represent a comprehensive approach to funding public education for the coming school year.”

Highlights of the school budget include:

  • Increasing state spending on education by $101.2 million over the current year.
  • Fully funding the first year of the career ladder teacher salary law with $33.5 million.
  • Boosting schools’  operational funding or discretionary spending by $33.2 million. Per-classroom operational funding will increase from $22,401 to $23,868. Even with the increase, per classroom spending still lags behind the $25,696 level from 2008-09.
  • Raising minimum teacher salary levels from $31,750 to $32,700.
  • Spending $13.2 million on teacher professional development.
  • Paying $16.1 million for teacher leadership premiums, that are designed to reward educators for mentoring or taking on hard-to-fill positions. This funding will be paired with the $33.5 million in the career ladder.
  • Earmarking $6 million to pay for advanced college courses that students complete while still in high school.
  • Budgeting $2.1 million for Wi-Fi for Idaho schools.

Next year’s school budget represents about 48 percent of the state’s general fund budget expenses, and a total of $1.476 billion.

Horman said the school budgets quickly passed each legislative chamber because of collaborative,  bipartisan efforts to make a statement supporting public schools this year.

“(Budget committee) members worked very hard this year to find areas where we could save in other budgets or run maintenance budgets in order to make way for public education,” Horman said after the votes. “All of us can go back home and say significant efforts have been made to control spending in other budgets so we could prioritize public education this session.”

Horman and Reps. Phylis King and John Gannon, both D-Boise, carried the school budget successfully through the House floor. Horman previously served as a school trustee with the Bonneville School District and said her experience there and working with leaders of the neighboring Idaho Falls School District helped prepare her to tackle the state school budget.

“I’m really proud to be a part of directing this funding toward public education,” she said.

A small number of House Republicans voted against each school budget without explaining their concerns or opposition, but they never managed more than seven votes against a single bill.

Having already cleared the Senate last Wednesday, the school budgets next head to Gov. Butch Otter’s desk for final consideration.

Click on Idaho Ed News’ bill tracker to find out how you lawmakers voted on the school budget this session’s other education bills.