Search for K-12 budget solution stalls

One day after a deeply divided Senate voted down a $1.308 billion public schools budget for 2013-14, the search for a solution has hit a snag.

The House Education Committee had originally scheduled a hearing to consider a bill to scrutinize pay for performance and classroom technology pilot programs, two controversial line items in the 2013-14 budget voted down on the Senate floor Wednesday. But that meeting was postponed Thursday afternoon.

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Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene

The House and Senate education committees had also planned a public hearing Monday morning to discuss these same budget items. But less than three hours after discussing this plan in a committee session Thursday afternoon, Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde abruptly announced the hearing was off.

“It appears that the ideas being developed for the germane committee work and public input are not yet seasoned enough to be heard,” Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said in a statement. “The meeting I announced in the Senate Education Committee this afternoon has been cancelled for the present.”

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Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle

House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt said he postponed his committee’s hearing when it became evident that the legislation was in trouble. He said he’s unsure of the exact sticking points, but says the hangup remains in the Senate. “I trust that (Goedde) has the pulse of the people in his body,” said DeMordaunt, R-Eagle.

These developments, evidently, leave the two houses no closer to hammering out a public schools budget for the spending year starting July 1. The House approved a budget last week on a 52-16 vote. On Wednesday, the Senate rejected the budget on a 17-18 vote, throwing the end of the 2013 session into turmoil.

The dispute centers on two line items, accounting for less than 2 percent of the overall 2013-14 budget. The first is a $21 million line item, which would have gone into professional development and pay for performance plans crafted at the district level. The second is $3 million in technology pilot programs.

Critics, particularly in the Senate, said the budget would have allowed school districts to spend this money with little direction — and say the public had no say in these spending decisions.

Hammering out these issues in the education committees was seen as — and perhaps still is — a precursor to resolving the budget deadlock between Senate Education and the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.

JFAC, the House-Senate budget-writing panel, won’t meet until the education committees present language on pay for performance and technology pilot programs, JFAC co-chairman Dean Cameron said Thursday morning. JFAC has no meetings scheduled.

The 2012-13 budget fix

In another development Thursday, Senate Education Committee finally gave the thumbs-up to House Bill 65 — a 2012-13 budget fix to give the public schools $30.6 million that had been earmarked for Students Come First programs.

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Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert

This is another precursor to settling the budget issue. Cameron said his committee would not move until Senate Education moved on HB 65.

“They’ve been playing games with this bill for some time,” said Cameron, R-Rupert.

HB 65 passed the House on Feb. 19, on a 69-0 vote. The bill had been held in Senate Education for more than a month, and had been on the committee’s agenda four times in the past eight days.

But on Thursday, the committee moved swiftly, and voted unanimously, on the short-term fix to keep schools whole in the wake of the Students Come First repeal. “I think this is the thing to do,” said Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett.

HB 65 puts $16.2 million into technology and professional development and $4.85 million into hiring math and science teachers, among other items. If this bill doesn’t pass, the $30.6 million reverts back into the public schools’ rainy-day account, at the districts’ expense.

‘We’ve got a process …’

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Gov. Butch Otter

After the surprise Senate floor vote, Gov. Butch Otter, state schools superintendent Tom Luna and key legislators met late Wednesday to discuss the budget impasse, the delays over HB 65 — and a timetable for starting over.

“I thought it was a very fruitful meeting,” Otter said Thursday morning.

But Otter cautioned that it would take time to put together a solution, and incorporate public hearings.

“We’ve got a process that we need to follow,” he said.

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