Legislature passes school budget


The Idaho House and Senate worked quickly to pass a $1.308 billion school budget Thursday morning, paving the way for lawmakers to adjourn for the year.

Reversing course, the Senate considered the budget bill  first, passing it 29-5 just over a week after defeating the original school budget. Moments later, the House passed the budget bill by a comfortable 57-11 margin.

The 2013-2014 public school budget represents a 2.2 percent general fund spending increase over the current budget year. Overall, the school budget accounts for 47 percent of state general fund spending.

When federal dollars and dedicated funds are calculated, total spending will come to nearly $1.6 billion.

Cameron

Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, urges passage of the 2013-2014 school budget on the Senate floor Thursday morning.

“It’s an interim budget in a post-referendum world as we await the recommendations from the (governor’s education) task force,” said sponsoring Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. “This is certainly not a perfect budget. (But) this is the best possible budget for this year given our situation… this is heading in the right direction.”

Even with the spending bump, schools spending still lags behind 2009 levels by about $110 million or 4.4 percent.

Budget highlights include:

  • Raising minimum teacher salaries to $31,000, up from $30,500.
  • Increasing discretionary spending by 1.5 percent, up to $20,000 per support unit.
  • Earmarking $11.3 million to unfreeze two years of experience on the state teachers’ salary table.
  • Setting aside more than $4.8 million to hire more math and science to meet new standards.
  • Providing $21 million in one-time money for merit pay and allowing districts to use 40 percent of the money for professional development for Common Core standards.

The new school budget was just unveiled Wednesday by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, but the dollar amounts and many other aspects of it mirror the original budget defeated in the Senate on March 27.

After that surprise vote, the wheels temporarily fell off the session, derailing plans to adjourn  last week.

Key lawmakers and state officials convened a series of closed-door negotiations and emerged from those talks Monday evening with solution in hand.

Five Senate Republicans voted against the budget: Cliff Bayer, Boise; Dean Mortimer, Idaho Falls; Bob Nonini, Coeur d’Alene; Sheryl Nuxoll, Cottonwood; and Steve Vick, Dalton Gardens.

The 11 House members who opposed the budget were: Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens; Judy Boyle, R-Midvale; Brent Crane, R-Nampa; Lawerence Denney,R-Midvale; John Gannon, D-Boise; Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton; Jason Monks, R-Meridian; Joe Palmer, R-Meridian; Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene; John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, and; JoAn Wood, R-Rigby.