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Eye On Boise

Senate passes its final budget bill for the year, for state superintendent and early-reading test

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, in the Idaho Senate chamber on Thursday, March 22, 2018 (The Spokesman-Review / Betsy Z. Russell)
Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, in the Idaho Senate chamber on Thursday, March 22, 2018 (The Spokesman-Review / Betsy Z. Russell)

The Senate has now passed its final appropriation bill, the revamped budget for the state Superintendent of Public Instruction, after the House rejected an earlier version because it cut out funding for a new Idaho Reading Indicator early-reading assessment test. “Our colleagues across the rotunda decided that we needed to take another look at the budget and do things just a little differently,” Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, co-chair of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, told the Senate. Now, the plan includes $550,000 to roll out a new computerized early reading test statewide next year; Superintendent Sherri Ybarra had requested $600,000.

Keough recalled serving on the Senate Education Committee back when it met on the Capitol’s fourth floor in the room that’s now the Senate Majority Caucus room, and learning about the importance of children reading by the third grade, a key indicator of future success in school. “Those tools will change over time,” Keough said. “For now, this is what we have in this superintendent’s budget and I’m certain the good work will continue.”

Senate Education Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, who had favored the earlier version of the budget bill and raised questions about the new test, gave his comments about the new bill in verse, concluding, “This senator will regretfully vote no, but hold no grudges or hopefully future bias show. Onward and upward we’ll go, and may our young students’ advancement and literacy know.”

Another opponent of the revamped budget in committee, Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, voted in favor of it today, saying, “I cast my aye vote in honor of the good chairman of the JFAC committee.”

Keough, who is retiring after this year, said after the vote, “We have had 118 budget bills, and have passed a balanced budget for our great state.” She commended all the senators who serve on the joint budget committee “for their hard work at all they’ve done and the countless hours that go into setting these budgets,” and also commended the JFAC staff.

“This budget that we have just passed reflects an overall increase of general fund spending at 5.9 percent,” Keough said. Fully 5 percent of that is from just three budgets, she said: Public schools, which will see a $100 million funding increase next year as the state moves into the fourth year of a five-year plan to improve education and boost teacher salaries; Medicaid; and corrections.

“The rest of our state government budget and the growth in that was just about 0.8 percent,” Keough said. “Again I want to commend the work of the committee members and this Legislature for yet again upholding our constitutional duty to the taxpayers of Idaho in doing a balanced budget.”

Keough is the longest-serving female senator in the history of the state. When she completes her 11th term in November, she’ll have served 22 years in the Idaho Senate.

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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