Bill returns money to districts

House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt on Friday began the process of returning the money schools had budgeted for before voters repealed the Students Come First laws.

Members of the committee voted unanimously to introduce a new bill that DeMordaunt said prevents districts from losing about $30.6 million in the wake of the repeal.

Sen. John Goedde

Sen. John Goedde, chairman of the Senate Education Committee and Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, joined DeMordaunt in co-sponsoring the legislation.

“The attempt here is to restore funding that was removed as part of the repeal,” DeMordaunt said. “These are funds that our districts budgeted on when they set their budgets last June or July. There were certain laws that were in place, and they budgeted based on those laws.”

Following the Nov. 6 voter repeal of Students Come First, $30.6 million that had been appropriated for technology, spending flexibility, math and science teachers, professional development, unfreezing the salary grid and dual credits for high school students was left up in the air.

On Thursday, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna told members of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee that returning all of that money to school districts “is the right thing to do.”

The 12-page bill addresses several financial issues and programs.

  • It would restore $842,400 for dual credit courses for high school students.
  • It returns $4.8 million to school districts for extra math and science teachers.
  • It restores use-it-or-lose-it spending flexibility for districts.
  • It repeals the freeze on education credits within the salary table.
  • It also provides $16.2 million for technical and professional development, a $2.6 million increase compared to the original 2013 budget.

The bill would not, however, restore the 1.67 percent cut in salary money for 2013 that was originally taken to pay for a portion of the Students Come First bills. Luna on Thursday called for restoring the 1.67 percent next year.

If it becomes law, the bill will cost the state $111,000 more than the original 2013 budget because of additional funding for national board certification. DeMordaunt said the $111,000 will come from education savings accounts.

Rep. Wendy Horman, an Idaho Falls Republican who sits on the Bonneville Joint School District 93 Board of Trustees, said she supports DeMordaunt’s plan.

“I think it is a really thoughtful approach to restoring the funding schools have been counting on, and not only restoring, but increasing professional development,” Horman said

If lawmakers do not take action on the money, Horman said consequences could be dire for districts.

“It leaves school districts looking to either make mid-year cuts or draw money out of savings if these fixes aren’t made,” Horman said.

The introduction of DeMordaunt’s bill represents the first step in the legislative process. In order to become law, the bill will need to clear the House Education Committee during a full hearing, be approved by the full House, clear the Senate Education Committee, pass the full Senate and be signed – or at least not vetoed – by Gov. Butch Otter.


Clark Corbin

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