The Idaho Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee today approved a budget for schools for next year representing a 4.6 percent increase in state general funds. The overall budget, however, increased just 0.4 percent above this year's level, due to a decrease in federal funds. And although the recession is easing, Idaho schools will still receive $139 million less from the general fund in Fiscal Year 2013 than in FY2009.
School employee salaries were in the spotlight during the deliberations. Answering a question, State Superintendent Tom Luna said that 31 percent of Idaho teachers make less than $30,500, which will be the new minimum salary. He didn’t mention that $30,500 is $1,250 less than new teachers were making in FY 09.Additionally, discretionary funds—the funds districts use to pay to keep the schools running and for the purchase of additional programs and expenses not specifically funded by the legislature—will be $6,070 less per classroom next year than they received in FY09.
Democratic legislators on the committee attempted to introduce several proposals that would have reinstated one of the years of salary experience for teachers, which was frozen several years ago; added $3.8 million to pay for one additional day of professional development for teachers (the budget passed today funds just one day, despite the state’s new technology push); and slightly bumped up technology and discretionary funding. Those proposals failed on party-line votes.
During debate, Rep. Fred Wood (R-Burley) noted that a major piece of the education budget puzzle remains unsolved. Senate Bill 1331, introduced by JFAC Co-Chair Sen. Dean Cameron (R-Rupert) and passed unanimously last week by the Senate, would force the Legislature to backfill salary-based apportionment funds that are being diverted to fund the technology and pay-for-performance mandates passed last year by the Idaho Legislature. (Superintendent Luna also asked for the backfill, but just for FY 2013.) S1331 has not yet been heard in the House Education Committee. If it stalls in the House, it appears backfilling the salary pool may not be part of the budget equation after all. Idaho voters can overturn last year’s mandates by voting No on Propositions 1, 2, and 3 this November.
In a news release after the JFAC vote, Luna praised the budget and claimed that the average Idaho teacher will see a 6 percent raise “through increases in minimum salaries and the opportunity to earn a bonus above and beyond their salary,” but he didn’t say that those bonuses for some will come at the expense of every teacher who will, as a result of the passage of last year’s pay-for-performance legislation, begin to see lesser increases in their base salaries to pay for those bonuses. Nor did he note that classified employees are not eligible for bonuses. Budget analyst Paul Headlee told JFAC today that base salaries for classified school employees are below $20,000.
The House passed HCR048, congratulating the Idaho Education Association on its 120th anniversary, which the association marked on Saturday, March 3. Read the resolution here. The measure now goes to the Senate.
The Senate Education Committee passed H481, which lifts the caps of six new charter schools (and one new one per district) per year. It now goes to the full Senate.
Another great friend of education announced today that he will not seek another term. Rep. Brian Cronin served two terms representing Boise’s District 19 and he especially made a name for himself last session with his eloquent floor speeches against the harmful reform bills passed last year. Would-be candidates for the May 15 primary and November 6 general election have until this Friday to declare their candidacies. Here is the latest list as of 5 p.m. today.