House OK’s K-12 budgets — including $104 million in teacher pay raises

It took the House less than half an hour to pass a half a dozen K-12 budget bills Monday.

The rapid-fire votes were a marked departure from 2021 — when the House voted down a teacher salaries bill, as part of a legislative impasse over school indoctrination concerns.

Taken together, the six budget bills allocate more than $2.1 billion of state tax dollars for K-12. And they make up the bulk of Gov. Brad Little’s request to increase K-12 spending by 11%.

The House formally signed off on two big K-12 line items:

  • Another round of teacher pay raises. The budgets put $104 million of state money and federal coronavirus aid into the career ladder.
  • A big investment in school employee health insurance. The budgets include $75.5 million in one-time money to help schools move their employees onto the state insurance plan, and $105 million in ongoing funding to beef up employee benefits. The Legislature has already OK’d the upgrade in insurance benefits; Little signed this benefits policy bill into law more than a month ago. The budgets essentially fund that policy decision made earlier in the session.

Despite the high stakes, Monday’s discussion was low-key.

No lawmaker actually debated against any of the bills. And only one lawmaker even asked a question.

Drilling down on a proposed 7% pay hike for school administrators, Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, asked if these same administrators are in line to receive a $1,000 bonus, approved by the House Monday morning.

They are, said Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, a floor sponsor of two of the budget bills.

Scott voted against the administrators’ budget bill, joined by 16 colleagues. The bill still passed easily, on a bipartisan, 51-17 vote.

The five other votes were even more lopsided. The teacher salaries bill, for example, passed on a 65-4 vote, opposed only by Scott and three other Republicans: Vito Barbieri of Dalton Gardens; Sage Dixon of Ponderay; and Karey Hanks of St. Anthony.

The House left one of the seven budget bills untouched Monday afternoon: the “children’s programs” budget. This budget contains another big line item: a $46.6 million increase in early literacy money, which districts could use for all-day kindergarten.

But here as well, the policy debate is settled — which might make the budget vote a foregone conclusion. Both houses have passed some form of a literacy and all-day kindergarten bill — the House followed the Senate’s lead late Monday afternoon, passing a bill on a 40-29 vote. The “children’s programs” budget bill could come up for a House vote as early as Tuesday.

All seven budget bills will also have to pass the Senate, before they can go to Little’s desk.

Passing the budgets is a key milestone, as the Legislature seeks to wrap up its business for 2022. The Legislature made big progress on education budgets Monday; earlier in the day, the Senate sent the higher education budget to Little’s desk.

Lawmakers are hoping to end the session later this week.

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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