House Ed debates spending priorities

House Education Committee members on Wednesday began making their pitches to spend the $34 million left on the table by an education reform task force.

Gov. Butch Otter and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna set aside $33.9 million in their 2013-14 budget proposals to pay for ideas from Otter’s task force. But the task force won’t convene again until March 15, and will spend months developing recommendations, Chairman Richard Westerberg said last week.

With that in mind, House Education Committee Chairman and task force member Reed DeMordaunt began his appeal to keep that money in education.

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Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle

“I really see this as within our purview at this time, the $33.9 million,” said DeMordaunt, R-Eagle. “It’s a discussion we are having and should have.”

Committee members debated budget scenarios for about 30 minutes Wednesday, and three main priorities emerged. Without discussing specific figures, they want that $34 million to go to professional development for implementing Common Core standards, teacher salaries and technology in schools.

“My hope is that we could consider professional development for implementation of Common Core,” said Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking, a Boise Democrat who also sits on Otter’s task force. “We know that’s on the horizon and I think that’s a key element teachers in the state need.”

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Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise

Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls, backed Ward-Engelking.

“At the (Idaho School Boards Association) dinner, that voice of urgency was so evident there,” Bateman said. “(Professional development) really needs to receive adequate funding in my view.”

Otter’s budget doesn’t include any money for core standards professional development, but Luna’s provides almost $3.8 million.

DeMordaunt is scheduled to appear before the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee Thursday when he will issue committee recommendations for the $34 million. He also said he plans to work with JFAC member Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, who plans to carry the 2014 school budget bill on the House floor.

Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, said teachers deserve a chunk of the $34 million.

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Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls

“I prefer to see that moved back into salary-based apportionment,” Clow said. “I would also like to see, potentially, the minimum (teacher salary) raised more than $500. That’s my bottom-line feeling.”

Luna’s budget calls for raising minimum teacher pay from $30,500 to $31,000. Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, echoed Clow’s call to raise the minimum teacher salary.

During a breakfast with the Idaho Press Club Friday, Otter said he has no backup plan for the task force money, but said others are already eyeing it.

“Outside the task force, we have a lot of recommendations for what to do with the $34 million,” Otter told reporters Friday.

On Wednesday, Luna reiterated his belief that the money should stay in education.

“Superintendent Luna has made it clear that his intent is for all of this funding to stay in the public schools budget,” the State Department of Education said in a statement. “He will continue his work with legislators and educational stakeholders to ensure that happens.”

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