Are both school budgets in some trouble?

House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley

On Monday, I interviewed House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, on education — and the legislative “interim committee” that he would like to put together to study school labor issues.

Here are a few other items from my notes:

The 2013 budget. The House voted 69-0 last month on House Bill 65, a budget fix that restores $30 million that were tied up in Students Come First laws. But despite the unanimous vote, this was hardly a smooth process. Some House members were uneasy about the idea of putting the money back into schools, weeks after the Students Come First defeat. “Obviously, the House got over it.”

However, Bedke said he remains worried about the fate of HB 65, which passed the House on Feb. 19 but hasn’t moved in the Senate since then — even though it is co-sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Vice Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls. Is HB 65 in trouble? “There are some issues,” Bedke said.

The 2014 budget. Another looming budget question, standing between the Legislature and a late March adjournment, is the 2013-14 school budget bill, which provides a 2.2 percent general fund increase.

On this budget, Bedke is confident — on the House side. All 10 House members of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee supported the bill in committee. And the idea of putting some $34 million into local merit pay pilot projects and one-time technology and professional development projects has support in the House Education Committee.

Again, the Senate may be more interesting. Five Senate Republicans on JFAC opposed pieces of the budget in committee. And some Republicans on the Senate Education Committee have publicly objected to the budget — and the $21 million earmarked for merit pay and professional development.

The Otter task force. Bedke is presiding over a House heavy with newcomers — 29 of the chamber’s 70 members are first-termers. The newbies have generally been willing to defer to Gov. Butch Otter’s education task force, and wait for its recommendations in 2014.

Bedke admits to some mixed feelings about the 31-member task force, which began meeting in January. Bedke is willing to listen to good ideas from any source — but is a bit uneasy with an executive panel offering legislative guidance. “I appreciate their advice and stuff, but we’ll set the policy ultimately.”

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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