April 4, 2013 in Idaho

Idaho lawmakers have deal on new schools budget

By The Spokesman-Review
 

BOISE – A new $1.3 billion Idaho public schools budget built by legislators this week is poised to pass a final vote today.

The compromise version has been embraced by both the state Senate and House, passing each chamber on Wednesday and setting up final approval that features a few small changes.

The new bill follows last week’s school budget defeat led by Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene.

To gain support, the new budget was the product of a different legislative process that earned Goedde’s support.

“From what I know at this point, I plan on voting for the budget,” Goedde said late Wednesday. “I don’t have any huge arguments with what’s been moving forward.”

Goedde and others in the Senate had objected to $21 million for locally directed teacher merit bonuses and $3 million for technology pilot-project grants.

In the new bill both were split out into a separate bill that was heard by the House and Senate Education committees on Wednesday morning, then passed by both houses the same day and sent to the governor.

The school budget still funds those items, but refers to SB 1199 to describe them rather than writing them into the budget.

Goedde said he thought the original version was “an overstep” by the joint budget committee. “We took care of that,” he said.

Both those items are funded for next year only, as a task force of education stakeholders convened by Gov. Butch Otter and an interim legislative study committee both launch hearings around the state over the coming months on how Idaho should improve its schools.

Both moves follow the voters’ rejection of three referendum measures in November, repealing the Students Come First school reform laws, which called for big technology boosts, including a laptop computer for every high school student; a new merit-pay bonus system for teachers, even as base pay was cut; and rolling back teachers’ collective bargaining rights. Several provisions of those labor law changes have been reintroduced this session at the behest of the Idaho School Boards Association, and most have passed.

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, a retired teacher who opposed the Students Come First laws, termed the revival of any of those provisions “horrible.”

“They were all three put down, and I can’t believe we can’t respect that at least for a year,” she said.

Ringo supported the original school budget this year, HB 323, and also supported the new version on Wednesday. “I don’t think there’s really much of substance that’s different,” she said. “I think it was kind of an expensive exercise.”

It costs an estimated $30,000 for every day the Idaho Legislature remains in session; last week’s rejection of the school budget in the Senate derailed a planned adjournment last Friday, pushing the session into this week. Now, lawmakers hope to adjourn today.

Goedde said, “We’re out by noon.”

Associated Press contributed to this story.


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