House passes 2013-14 school budget

The 2013-14 public schools budget cleared one of the two remaining legislative hurdles on Friday by passing the House 52-16.

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee budget calls for a 2.2 percent increase in state general fund spending over this year’s budget. It outlines $1.308 billion in general fund spending, a $28.5 million increase from this year’s $1.279 billion budget.

The public school budget is the largest annual state expense, accounting for 47 percent of state spending.

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Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls

Total spending for education – with dedicated and federal funds calculated – will be nearly $1.6 billion next year if this budget is adopted.

Even with the 2.2 percent increase, state public school spending lags behind 2009 budget year levels by more than $110 million.

Rep. Jeff Thompson, an Idaho Falls Republican who carried the budget on the House floor, said the bill is based on feedback from districts and stakeholders and is designed to help heal Great Recession-era budget wounds.

“This represents an important step in restoring and moving education forward in Idaho,“ Thompson said. “Is it perfect? No. But I believe it moves us forward.”

All House Democrats approved the budget, but some held their noses while they did. Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, supported the bill but argued that it doesn’t really move schools forward. He complained about the $110 million difference between next year’s budget and the 2009 budget and challenged the Legislature to “get serious” about funding education.

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Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise

“Even if this budget got us back to 2009 levels we would be behind because of the intervening inflation,” Burgoyne said. “What we have to do on education requires more of us than just keeping up with inflation.”

Highlights. The budget includes money for technology, discretionary spending and professional development and reverses cuts to the teacher salary grid:

  • $767 million for salaries, up from $743 million.
  • A 1.5 percent increase in discretionary spending.
  • Increases minimum teacher salaries from $30,500 to $31,000, a 1.6 percent increase.
  • Restores two years of experience on the state salary schedule that was frozen during the recession.
  • $21 million in block grants for compensation – 40 percent of which can be spent on professional development. The remaining 60 percent would be devoted to a merit pay model set by local districts based on student achievement.
  • $13.4 million for classroom technology, with $3 million of that awarded in competitive grants for pilot programs.
  • $3.75 million for Common Core state standards professional development.

The budget does not include across-the-board raises for teachers or staffers, and districts will be responsible for setting local salaries this spring based on the money the state sends them.

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Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale

What’s next? Friday’s House budget debate may have foreshadowed a looming showdown in the Senate. In the House, 16 Republicans voted against the budget, with some arguing that the budget committee has stepped on the toes of the education committees.

Rep. Judy Boyle of Midvale, a House Education Committee member, said budget “intent language” for $33.9 million oversteps JFAC’s boundaries.

“All the intent language coming out of JFAC should be (the responsibility of the education committees), not coming out of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee,” Boyle said. “This is a massive example of intent language coming out of the committee.”

While House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, supported the budget, the rest of the GOP leadership team voted no: Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane, R-Nampa, and Majority Caucus Chairman John Vander Woude, R-Nampa. Crane lamented the fact Gov. Butch Otter’s education reform task force did not make any recommendations for spending the $33.9 million this session.

House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, pointed out that the task force will wait until next year to make its recommendations. DeMordaunt, who sits on the task force, said the $33.9 million represents one-time spending authority that will not tie the task force’s hands.

When JFAC set the school budget March 4, five Republican senators opposed it.

Legislative leaders are targeting next week as the final week of the 2013 session. Before they can adjourn, they are obligated to pass the 2013-14 budget.

Sen. Dean Mortimer, an Idaho Falls Republican who sits on both JFAC and the Senate Education Committee, said Thursday he has yet to make up his mind if he can support the budget when it reaches the Senate. Mortimer, one of the five JFAC members who voted against the budget in committee, had instead pushed for more discretionary spending and a bigger increase in minimum salaries, but his budget would not have restored frozen cuts to the salary grid.

How they voted:

Yes (43 Republicans, 13 Democrats) — Agidius, Anderson(01), Anderson(31), Anderst, Andrus, Bateman, Batt, Bedke, Bell, Bolz, Burgoyne, Chew, Clow, Collins, Dayley, DeMordaunt, Erpelding, Eskridge, Gannon, Gibbs, Hancey, Harris, Hartgen, Holtzclaw, Horman, Kauffman, King, Kloc, Loertscher, Luker, Malek, Meline, Mendive, Miller, Monks, Morse, Nielsen, Packer, Pence, Perry, Raybould, Ringo, Romrell, Rusche, Smith, Stevenson, Thompson, VanOrden, Ward-Engelking, Wood(27), Woodings and Youngblood.

No (16 Republicans, 0 Democrats) — Barbieri, Barrett, Boyle, Crane, Denney, Gestrin, Hixon, McMillan, Moyle, Palmer, Patterson, Shepherd, Sims, Trujillo, Vander Woude and Wood (35).

Absent (2 Republicans) — Henderson and Wills.