Statehouse roundup, 3.29.19: Late-session movement on education budgets

(UPDATED, 2:28 p.m., to correct role of State Board associate chief academic officer.)

Legislators took another whack at a State Board of Education budget Friday morning.

And whittled $750,000 in the process.

There’s only one difference between the new State Board budget and the bill that died on the House floor on March 7. The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee cut $750,000 to support low-performing public schools.

This consulting help is in limbo anyway, and all because of a second House vote. On March 22, lawmakers killed a turnaround schools bill that would have directed this program in the future.

“We felt it was an opportunity to put that program on pause,” said Rep. Paul Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene, an author of the new State Board budget bill.

The new bill leaves several other line items intact, including $263,000 to review applications for the state’s new master teacher premiums and $100,000 for Gov. Brad Little’s proposed education task force.

The budget still creates an associate chief academic officer’s position. This new administrator would work on projects designed to keep college students on track toward a degree, but critics have questioned the $108,400 price tag for salary and benefits.

All told, the State Board budget allocates $5.6 million from the general fund, an 11.9 percent decrease.

The new budget still must pass the House and Senate before the end of the session.

Teacher pay trailer bill

As expected, the Senate voted Friday to approve the funding to pay for Gov. Brad Little’s plan to raise Idaho’s minimum teacher salary over the next two years.

Without any debate, the Senate voted 34-0 to pass House Bill 286. The bill is considered a “trailer” budget bill because it came after the public school budget was set and after the Legislature passed House Bill 153, which was Little’s bill to raise teacher salaries to $40,000 over the next two years.

The Legislature already committed itself to raising teacher salaries. House Bill 286 simply provides $3.8 million in additional funding to pay for those raises in the 2020 budget year.

Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking

Under HB 153, the minimum teacher salary will rise to $38,500 in 2019-20 and $40,000 in 2020-21. For the current school year, Idaho’s starting teacher salary is set in law at $35,800.

“This is a really good bill, it will move us forward in trying to address our teacher shortage,” sponsoring Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, said. This is a good first step (but) we have more to do to make sure our highly skilled, experiences teachers are also seeing an increase like this so we can retain them.”

HB 286 already passed the House 60-7 on Monday. Now that it has cleared the Senate, it heads to Little’s desk to be signed into law.

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