A House majority overcame opposition from both parties to pass the seven pieces of the public school budget Wednesday afternoon.
A handful of House Republicans joined most Democrats in opposing the budgets, the biggest piece of the state budget, representing about 47 percent of total spending. And while debate was limited, most of it was in opposition to the bills. (For a complete vote breakdown, check our Vote Tracker.)
Members of the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee took turns presenting pieces of the budget, and arguing for their passage. “I appreciate the ability not to cut this budget to get (schools) hope, I guess,” said JFAC co-chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome.
Altogether, the budget represents a 5.1 percent spending increase over the current year, a $66 million increase. Spending for schools will total nearly $1.7 billion when state and federal funds are counted.
Boise Democratic Rep. John Gannon led opposition to the budgets, saying funding inequities continue to force residents to approve supplemental tax levies.
“We have a budget that doesn’t even come close to matching the enthusiasm our public in Idaho has for education,” Gannon said.
During his debate, Gannon estimated that the budget falls about $170 million short of funding levels from 2008-09, once enrollment increases, inflation and health care costs are added in.
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Gannon unsuccessfully urged lawmakers to vote the budget bills down and start the appropriations process over again.
“This budget does not even come close to addressing these issues and solving problem for our schools,” he said.
Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, opposed the bills after rejecting the Democrats’ concerns that spending has not come back to 2009 levels.
“This seems like an awful lot of money and if keep increasing (spending) like this, we are going to outpace our ability to fund the school system,” he said.
Budget highlights include:
- $35 million to help restore $82.5 million in cuts to operations funding, a 12 percent increase over this year’s operations funding level.
- Increasing the operations funding per classroom unit from $20,000 to $22,401.
- $13.9 million in ongoing new funding for teacher pay. That includes a 1 percent increase in base salaries for teachers and raising the minimum teacher salary from $31,000 to $31,750.
- $15.8 million for teacher leadership awards, to be awarded by leaders of local school districts.
- $8 million for classroom technology.
- $12.15 million for teachers’ professional development, which includes training for gifted and talented student programs.
- $5 million in one-time funding for content and curriculum materials.
- $2.25 million in one-time funding for WiFi installation.
- $4.5 million to continue a statewide instructional management system.
Another Democrat, Boise Rep. Grant Burgoyne, opposed portions of the school budget, saying Idaho spending on education is among the lowest levels in the country.
“We are 49th and headed to 50th,” Burgoyne said. “Are we going to fall behind Puerto Rico?”
But House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, discounted attempts to measure education quality simply by looking at spending. “That’s like trying to judge your golf game by how much you paid for your greens fee.”
Lawmakers broke the budget into seven pieces in order to add a measure of transparency, said Bell.
The seven budget bills break down as follows:
- House Bill 637, administration. General fund: $79,719,300.
- House Bill 638, teachers. General fund: $755,110,500.
- House Bill 639, operations division. General fund: $484,741,000.
- House Bill 640, children’s programs. General fund: $23,860,600.
- House Bill 641, facilities. General fund: $7,153,600.
- House Bill 642, deaf and blind services. General fund: $8,299,900.
- House Bill 643, central services. General fund: $15,713,500.
All seven budget bills next head to the Senate floor, where they could be taken up for a vote as soon as Thursday.