JFAC approves 2.2 percent K-12 budget increase

The Legislature’s budget-writing committee on Monday approved a 2.2 percent increase in public schools funding for next year.

Nine Republican members of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee — including JFAC’s chairpersons and vice chairpersons – pushed a plan to spend $1.308 billion in state general fund money for K-12 in 2013-14.

By comparison, K-12 received $1.279 billion this year.

Two other Republicans and all four committee Democrats voted for the plan, giving it a level of bipartisan support as it heads to the floor.

The schools budget is the state’s largest expense, representing about 47 percent of general fund spending for 2013-14.

That plan represents a compromise between the 2 percent school funding increase Gov. Butch Otter sought at the outset of the session and the 3 percent bump Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna requested.

Even though the plan is a compromise, Luna said he supports the budget.

Superintendent Tom Luna
Superintendent Tom Luna

“We see income increasing for education and income increasing in different state agencies and such, which is a sign the economy is improving – although maybe not at the pace some of us would like,” Luna said. “I think this budget is reasonable and a good budget considering the economic uncertainty I think is out there.”

The approved plan still must pass the House and Senate before going to Otter.

Budget highlights

  • Block grants totaling $21 million to districts and charter schools. Districts can spend up to 40 percent of that total for professional development, while the remainder would go to pay for performance plans developed at the district level.
  • A $13.4 million classroom technology line item, including $3 million of competitive grants for pilot programs and $2 million for wireless connectivity in high schools.
  • A discretionary funding increase of 1.5 percent, or $5.2 million.
  • A $4.85 million line item to hire additional math and science teachers.
  • A Schoolnet operations budget of $4.5 million, with another $150,000 set aside for professional development for Schoolnet.
  • A $3.75 million line item for professional development for Common Core standards.
  • An increase in  minimum teacher salary from $30,500 to $31,000, at a cost of about $3 million.
  • On other salary matters, the budget “unfreezes” two years of experience on the teachers’ salary grid that were cut back during the recession. It also restores 1.67 percent in educators’ base salaries, also known as the fifth factor.
  • A $250,000 line item for dual credit courses for students who complete high school graduation requirements early.
  • A school safety task force is provided with $100,000 in spending authority and the option to shift another $50,000.

Debate at a glance

JFAC co-chairman Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, pushed for lawmakers to restore teacher funding on the grid that had been taken away.

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Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert

“We said at the time when we froze them that when we could, we would restore that,” Cameron said. “I think we’re now at that stage where in order to move forward we need to restore.”

Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, said he entered the legislative session determined to push for unfreezing at least one year of experience on the salary grid.

“I look at this as a big win for this committee, the governor and the Legislature as whole as we show how we value teachers and educators throughout the state of Idaho,” Thompson said.

Cameron said the $13.4 million for technology and $21 million for pay for performance and professional development correspond with the $33.9 million that Otter and Luna had sought for the governor’s education reform task force. Cameron said this budget leaves room for task force members to make recommendations to lawmakers next year.

Opposition came from five Senate Republicans: Dean Mortimer, Idaho Falls; Cliff Bayer, Boise; Sheryl Nuxoll, Cottonwood; Steven Thayn, Emmett; and Steve Vick, Dalton Gardens.

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Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls

Mortimer said he tried to follow Otter’s lead, and stay with a 2 percent increase.

Luna said this year’s budget discussions were much more difficult following voters’ November repeal of the Students Come First laws. Typically, budget writers look at the current year’s budget and build the following year’s spending plan around it.

“After November, we really didn’t have a blueprint to go back to because November’s election made structural changes to the 2013 appropriation,” Luna said.

(Check back at idahoednews.org  and the EDge blog for an analysis of the JFAC vote.)