School budgets face opposition in Senate

Senate President Pro Tem UPDATEDBrent Hill, R-Rexburg

(UPDATED, 3:05, with comments from Senate Education Chairman John Goedde.)

Some senators oppose the proposed 2013-14 public schools budget proposal, Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill said Tuesday.

But is the opposition sufficient to sink the $1.3 billion budget?

“I can’t predict that,” Hill, R-Rexburg, said at an Idaho Press Club luncheon Tuesday.

The opposition isn’t so much about the bottom-line numbers — and the 2.2 percent general fund increase contemplated in the budget.

Instead, the opposition centers on something known as “intent language:” clauses in the bill that earmark some of the money. The budget would put $21 million into professional development and locally produced pay-for-performance plans; and $13 million for classroom technology.

Several Republicans on the Senate Education Committee objected to this wording last week, pushing for the money to go back into reserves or district discretionary funds. In response, the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee made only minor changes in the intent language, completing its work on the budget plan.

And even before the dustup in the Senate Education Committee, five of the eight Senate Republicans on JFAC voted against the budget bill.

Senate Republicans haven’t caucused on the budget proposal, Hill said Tuesday.

House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley

The 2013-14 public school budget accounts for 47 percent of the overall state budget — and passage of the budget is one of the last big pieces of unfinished business awaiting the 2013 Legislature. Its prospects in the House are solid, House Speaker Scott Bedke told Idaho Education News Monday; all 10 of JFAC’s House members supported the bill in committee, and House Education Committee members have pushed for one-time funding in areas such as technology and professional development.

The 2012-13 budget. Now, let’s turn to the other budget question still looming before the Legislature: this year’s public schools budget.

On Feb. 19, the House voted 69-0 for House Bill 65, a $30 million funding fix that would give public schools $30 million that had been tied up in pieces of the defeated Students Come First laws.

The Senate has been sitting on HB 65 for nearly a month, parked in Senate Education — even though committee Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Vice Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, are co-sponsors.

Hill offered little insight into the delay Tuesday. “I don’t know that (Goedde is) holding it for any particular purpose.”

Goedde has his reasons, evidently. Another meeting on HB 65 is slated for Wednesday morning, Goedde said Tuesday. No committee hearing has been set. “We’re trying to get some agreement on the language.”

Among the concerns: professional development funding. As written, the bill would provide $21,000 per district for professional development, regardless of size. “I think that becomes an issue,” Goedde said.

On Monday, Bedke first sounded the alarm on the 2012-13 budget fix, saying some Senate “hardliners” are opposed to it.

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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