Otter signs public schools budget

Gov. Butch Otter signed the hotly debated 2013-2014 public school budget into law Tuesday.

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Gov Butch Otter

In a letter to Lt. Gov. Brad Little, Otter said that he signed Senate Bill 1200 – the school budget bill – along with 48 other bills on Tuesday.

The school appropriation is the largest budget in Idaho, representing about 47 percent of state general fund spending. The $1.308 billion budget funds schools at $28.5 million more than the current year, representing a 2.2 percent increase.

Even with the spending increase, the budget incudes about $110 million less in funding than the 2009 budget provided.

For several weeks, Senate Republicans argued over the school budget and the proper controls for the education and budget committees. The battle flared up March 27 when the Senate killed the original school budget, extending the legislative session by about a week.

The following week, lawmakers and officials struck a deal that resurrected the same bottom-line budget after they introduced a companion policy bill.

Highlights of the budget include:

  • Raising minimum teacher salaries to $31,000, up from $30,500.
  • Increasing discretionary spending by 1.5 percent, up to $20,000 per support unit.
  • Earmarking $11.3 million to unfreeze two years of experience on the state teachers’ salary table.
  • Setting aside more than $4.8 million to hire more math and science to meet new standards.
  • Providing $21 million in one-time money for merit pay and allowing districts to use 40 percent of the money for professional development for Common Core standards.

Even though the Legislature adjourned for the year April 4, the lawmaking process continues with Otter until next week. The governor is given 10 days after adjournment to act on legislation approved by lawmakers.

Otter’s spokesman, Jon Hanian, said the 10-day timeframe excludes Sundays and the timer starts counting down when bills are received and time-stamped in Otter’s office. That gives Otter until April 17 to consider all legislation passed during the session, Hanian said.

Once a bill arrives on Otter’s desk, the governor may chose to sign it into law, veto it or allow it to pass into law without his signature.

Otter was in Jerome on Wednesday presiding over Capitol for a Day ceremonies and was not expected to sign any additional legislation. However, Hanian indicated Otter would likely set pen to paper again on Thursday to work through the remaining stack of legislation awaiting his attention.