Rapid fire: Senate passes seven K-12 budgets

Spending at the rate of $54 million a minute, the Senate wasted little time Wednesday passing seven K-12 budget bills.

The seven bills account for the bulk of K-12 funding for the budget year starting July 1. All seven bills passed on identical, 35-0 votes.

No senators debated the bills. The process — one of the big pieces of unfinished business for the 2016 legislative session — took only 29 minutes.

The Senate’s swift approval came two days after the House passed the budgets, also with overwhelming and bipartisan support.

A few highlights from the budgets approved Wednesday:

  • Funding the second year of the career ladder — a $41.5 million boost in teacher salaries.
  • A $27.3 million increase in “discretionary spending” for school districts. With this new money, districts will receive $25,696 per classroom to cover school operations — matching the per-classroom allocation schools received in 2008-09.
  • A 3 percent pay raise for administrators and classified staff, who are not covered by the career ladder.
  • Another $16.6 million for leadership premiums — bonuses awarded to teachers who take on additional responsibilities.
  • A $5 million boost in classroom technology budgets.

Wednesday’s budgets are not all-inclusive. Legislators still have to pass “trailer” spending bills that will cover other education line items — including, most notably, a $9.1 million budget to launch Gov. Butch Otter’s literacy initiative.

All told, legislators have drawn up a $1.58 billion spending plan for K-12 in 2016-17 — a 7.4 percent increase from 2015-16. That increase represents a magic number of sorts, since lawmakers wanted to match the 7.4 percent budget increase they approved a year ago.

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But the 7.4 percent increase falls short of Otter’s request for a 7.9 percent increase. On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that Otter was disappointed with legislators’ spending plan.

Now, Otter gets the final word. The seven budgets are headed to his desk.