Otter, Luna praise legislative focus on schools

Gov. Butch Otter and State Superintendent Tom Luna gave the Legislature high marks for education.

Otter, who listed education as his top priority during January’s State of the State address, said 2014 was “one of the smoothest sessions I’ve ever seen.”

Rep. Bolz
Representatives honor retiring Rep. Darrell Bolz, R- Caldwell, during the final day of the legislative session Thursday.

“We think it’s a good path forward, especially in the education package,” Otter told reporters Friday. “I think it’s a great start.”

Otter, who is running for his third term, praised lawmakers for increasing education spending above his own recommendations and for helping to partially implement recommendations from his Task Force for Improving Education.

Otter stressed that education will again be the focus next year, as state officials and education groups continue a multiyear approach to phasing in task force recommendations.

“I believe the success of Year One will dictate to us the aggressive attitude we take to Years Two, Three and Four,” Otter said.

Luna, who is not running for re-election, was similarly optimistic about the 74-day session that ended Thursday. Luna said he would give the session an “A” – if he was grading on a curve compared to recent legislative sessions.

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‘This is one of the most successful sessions I’ve had as state superintendent, and I measure that based on what kinds of opportunities our student are going to have because of the work of the Legislature,” Luna said.

A factor this year, Luna said, was the ability of education groups and leaders to work together toward the common goal of implementing task force recommendations.

Lawmakers passed an education budget that increases spending by 5.1 percent above current levels, while reversing $35 million in recession-era cuts and giving modest raises to teachers.

Otter sine die
Gov. Butch Otter and Assistant House Majority Leader Brent Crane, R-Nampa, discuss the legislative session with reporters on Friday.

But House and Senate Democrats said lawmakers did not go far enough. They called for more money to be invested in K-12 and higher education, with less going into savings.

“I certainly think we could have done a lot better,” said House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston. “In many ways, the outcomes do not match the priorities we espoused – priorities being education and economic improvement.”

However, Otter said, lawmakers were right to invest more in education than his proposed 2.9 percent increase – even though it meant scrapping Otter’s call for $30 million in tax cuts.

“They found a better use for the money than tax relief this year,” Otter said.

More reaction, from key lawmakers:

  • House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley: “We’ve done really pretty well. The task force made several recommendations and they have several goals that are not completely fleshed out. The provisions that were fleshed out, I believe that we accomplished each one of those, including the leadership portions for the teachers. This coming summer I’m looking forward to the task force sitting down and meeting again. By next session I think that we’ll put a lot more detail on these goals of the task force.  It is a multiple year process, and I think the things the task force wanted us to accomplish this year have been done.”
  • House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle: “We did pretty well if you look at the things we checked off the list in terms of governor’s task force recommendations – I’d say at least half of the recommendations we were able to move on in some way, probably over half. Before we came into this session we had worked with all the different stakeholders and we had a clear path ahead of us and we just walked down that path, so it wasn’t highly controversial, which is a great way. You’re not wasting your time arguing, your resources are focused on moving things forward. … (The budget) is much better than I thought we’d do this session. We’re doing exactly what the governor suggested and that is when we get more money, its going back into education. It was the last to be cut and it’s the first to be restored and that’s exactly what we’re doing. I was pleased and surprised we were able to do that much this year.”
  • Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, House Education Committee: “I’m really pleased with the outcomes that we’ve had for education. A lot of bipartisan good work done, best budget we’ve seen since 2007, so I think we have a lot to celebrate in education.”
  • Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls, House Education Committee: “I’m pleased with the 5.1 percent increase, that’s significant. I wish it could have been more. Maybe we did put a little too much into savings, the rainy day accounts….The funding we provided for the leaders in our schools ($15.8 million for teacher leadership awards) that is very important.”

How would you critique the legislative session? Let us know in the comments section below.

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