After comments from Sen. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, against HB 323, the school budget, Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, has begun his closing debate. “It is our highest priority to fund public education,” he told the Senate. “This isn’t an easy budget. It’s not easy because it contains many pieces and factors that in the past myself personally have stood and opposed. … It seems almost a little bit surreal that I’m standing here with a budget that has money in it for excellence in education awards, when I have opposed that in the past, and some of my friends who were supporters of that concept are now opposing this budget.”
He’s now describing the process that the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee goes through when it sets the public schools budget, the largest one it sets. Cameron said it’s the closest thing to zero-based budgeting that Idaho has. “Everything in the public schools budget is out on the table every year,” he said. "The process is very open and transparent, and we try very hard to satisfy the concerns of the stakeholders."
Cameron said in his view, the provision in the budget restoring frozen steps on the teacher salary grid gives school districts more flexibility - because many reacted to the freeze in state funds for teacher pay by shifting other district funds to keep teacher pay whole. "They now have the ability to move that money back down to discretionary," he said.
“I’d love to have more money in discretionary,” Cameron told the Senate. “Let me just tell you what we’ve done to salary-based apportionment since 2010. We’ve had two base salary reductions. Froze education credits on grid for one year. Froze experience credits on the grid for two years. Reduced minimum teacher salary. And we’ve had an overall reduction of 1.67 percent. The last place we hit in the public school budget was discretionary. The first place that got hit was salaries. This is the first step back. And it is a step back for discretionary as well, because we are freeing up discretionary dollars and we are giving an increase in discretionary dollars.”