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.