The school budget hide-and-seek

Waiting for a big showdown on the public schools budget?

You might have to wait a few days.

The 2013-14 public schools budget finally emerged in bill form Wednesday — 16 days after the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee set the numbers. The $1.3 billion general fund budget has a bill number, House Bill 323, which means the House will get first crack at it.

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House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley

House passage appears likely. Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, has said the budget has solid support in his chamber. And the track record seems to bear that out. All 10 of JFAC’s House members, Republican and Democrat, supported the budget in committee. Since the budget needs 36 votes to pass the House, those 10 votes are a pretty solid down payment on reaching the magic number.

Waiting on deck is the Senate. That’s the sticking point, and here’s why.

In JFAC, five Senate Republicans opposed the bill. And several members of the Senate Education Committee have squawked about the budget — and the JFAC “intent language” that earmarks $21 million for professional development and pay for performance programs, and $13 million for technology. Now, there is some overlap: Sens. Dean Mortimer and Steve Thayn serve on both JFAC and the Senate Education.

But there is clearly a core of Senate conservatives who don’t like this budget. And it takes only 18 senators to pass the budget. Or spike it.

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Then, on the subject of school budget hide-and-seek, there is the continuing saga of House Bill 65. This is the $30 million fix to the 2012-13 schools budget, which gives K-12 back the money that had been dedicated to Students Come First laws.

HB 65 had been posted on the agenda for the Senate Education Committee’s 3 p.m. meeting — one month and one day after it had passed the House on a 69-0 vote. Then it was abruptly removed from the calendar.

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Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene

Part of that was a function of time, Chairman John Goedde said after Wednesday’s meeting. That stands to reason; the committee had to wrap up its day’s work before the Senate reconvened at 3:45 p.m. But the Senate may also wind up amending the bill, he said.

Keep in mind, any Senate amendments would have to go back to the House for approval. So there could be some debate on this one before it’s all settled.