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Eye On Boise

Nonini bill would continue future teacher salary cuts to pay for ‘Students Come First’ reforms

House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, introduced legislation in the committee he chairs this morning as an alternative to a bill that's already passed the Senate unanimously, and that would have eliminated all future-year teacher salary cuts to pay for "Students Come First" reforms including laptop computers and other technology boosts, and a merit-pay bonus program for teachers. Nonini's new bill would only eliminate next year's cuts - which already have been effectively eliminated in the budget set for public schools for next year by "backfilling" the cuts with other state general funds.

 "The 2012 Legislature is not in a good position to evaluate the affordability of negating the additional 2.25 negative adjustment currently scheduled for FY14," Nonini's bill says in its Statement of Purpose. "The 2012 Legislature is simply not in possession of a revenue forecast for FY14 that would enable it to make such a decision with confidence. This legislation, therefore, leaves that decision to the 2013 Legislature, which will be in a much better position to evaluate the economy one year from now."

That means future Students Come First reforms still would be funded by permanent cuts in salary-based apportionment, the pool of funding that the state provides to school districts for teacher and administrator salaries; that's what happened this year as well. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.

Idaho House bill maintains teacher pay 2013 only
By JESSIE L. BONNER, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho would avoid more cuts to teacher pay in 2013 but could dip deeper into salaries in the future to fund new education reforms, under legislation introduced Monday.

The bill from House Education Committee Chairman Bob Nonini aims to replace a plan already endorsed by state senators. They voted unanimously to reverse the shifting of $34 million from salaries over the next five years to help pay for a statewide laptop program and merit pay bonuses for teachers.

Republican Sen. Dean Cameron's bill would allow lawmakers to direct tax revenue that's on the rebound to pay for those items. But Cameron's legislation isn't expected to get a hearing in the House Education Committee, where Nonini and others who supported the reforms worry about placing ongoing funding for the changes in jeopardy.

"I think we're still in a little bit of a delicate economy, unemployment numbers are still at 8.5 to 9 percent, although we're seeing a little bit of a turnaround, we've got a little bit of revenue growth," Nonini said. "I'm just nervous about committing future legislators to the additional money that Sen. Cameron's bill did."

Nonini's legislation would keep teacher pay at current levels in 2013 while lowering the amounts taken from salaries in future years to help fund the reforms. The bill will get a hearing Nonini's committee and if approved, go to the full House and then onto the Senate.

"I think this is somewhat of a compromise," Nonini said. "I just see mine as a little bit more, oh I guess what I would call, fiscally prudent legislation."

Neither bill would restore the money that was taken from salaries and benefits this year.

Idaho is shifting about $14.7 million, or 1.67 percent, in funding for employee pay and benefits this year to help pay for reforms approved in 2011. The money is being used to increase the minimum teacher pay, restore salary increases for teachers who further their education and pay for high school students who graduate early to earn college credits.

Under the education reforms, Idaho was due to shift another 2.38 percent, or nearly $20 million, from salaries next year as the state phases in laptops for every high school teacher and pays out merit bonuses for teachers. The amounts being shifted from salaries were due to increase in following years, when students get the laptops.

Public schools chief Tom Luna has proposed the state offset the money being taken from salaries to fund his reforms, using additional state revenues as the economy improves. But Cameron's legislation did away with the shifting of funding from salaries altogether.

The goal of restoring teacher pay is popular in the 2012 session, and a public schools budget approved by legislative budget writers for next year does not rely on salaries to help fund the reforms. But leaving ongoing funding up to future legislatures is a gamble House lawmakers aren't willing to take, Nonini said.

"I don't think I could have gotten Sen. Cameron's bill, probably, through this committee without getting it on the amending order," Nonini said. "I'm not sure I could have gotten it off the House floor. So that's why I thought, to get something through the House, my bill was a better opportunity."

Nonini's legislation would ditch a shift of an additional 2.38 percent from salaries in 2013. It would then lower reductions in following years by the same amount. For example, a 6.3 percent reduction to salaries planned in 2014 would be reduced by 2.38 percent, with Idaho taking nearly 4 percent from salaries for the reforms.

"It reduces the amounts coming out in future years," Nonini said.

Luna has previously said he shares Nonini's concerns about placing future funding for the reforms at risk, with the cost of the technology and merit pay plan due to increase. Luna's office did not, however, take a position Monday on Nonini's bill.

"We're still reviewing the legislation," spokeswoman Melissa McGrath said.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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