Going-home bill aims to resolve K-12 impasse

It took all of five minutes Tuesday for the Senate State Affairs Committee to print a new education bill — touted as a key to mitigating a budget dispute and adjourning the session.

Committee members voted unanimously to introduce the so-called going-home bill, Senate Bill 1199, which directs how money will be awarded for merit pay and technology pilot programs.

The 2013-14 school budget the Senate killed Wednesday earmarked money for merit pay and technology, but this bill does not specify the amount of money in play.

The biggest difference with the new bill may have less to do with dollars than it does with procedure — and smoothing tensions between the education committees and the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. Under the new bill, education committee members would direct money for merit pay and technology.

Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde, House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna co-sponsored the bill. The education committees will vet it during a public hearing set for 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Tom Luna
Tom Luna

“I think the most important thing is (this bill) brings policy to some specific line items that are in the public schools budget,” said Luna, said after watching the committee print the new bill. “I understand the need for policy to be driven through the (education) committees. There’s always been a concern the whole six years that I’ve been here about where that line is between the powers of JFAC to set budgets that could drive policy and then where the (education) committees come in. That was probably the issue from day one.”

The new bill also includes a sunset clause that will make it expire in one year.

For most of March lawmakers grumbled over whether JFAC had stepped on the toes of the education committees by earmarking the money for merit pay and technology. Some Senate Republicans also argued over whether to restore funding for experience and education credits that were frozen on the teachers’ salary pool or to increase discretionary spending – setting up last week’s budget showdown.

After the Senate killed the original budget bill, legislative leaders, members of the education committees, budget-writers, Luna and others convened a series of closed-door meetings aimed at striking a deal.

Senate Bill 1199 emerged after talks improved Monday night and House and Senate leaders were able to agree on what JFAC co-chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, called “a path forward.”

In order to adjourn the session, JFAC must still reconvene – possibly Wednesday – to draft a revised 2013-14 public school budget.  That budget would then need to pass both the House and the Senate – typically a lengthy process that lawmakers are expected to speed up considerably by suspending rules in order to facilitate adjournment.

More reading: Go to the EDge blog for more about the timeline to a possible adjournment.