The Senate today passed S1410, the Fiscal Year 2013 public schools budget. With a general fund price tag of $1,279,818,600, it represents a 4.6 percent increase from FY2012, but the overall budget of $1,566,813,100 showed an increase of just 0.4 percent over the current year. What’s more, Idaho’s public schools will still be operating with $139 million less in the general fund than the state invested in FY2009. The bill now goes to the House.
Sen. Dean Cameron (R-Rupert) said that although the budget is not perfect, it’s an improved, “glass-half-full” version of the state’s largest budget. But Sen. Nicole LeFavour (D-Boise) questioned why, as the economy improves, Idaho could not do better by its schools. “We are keeping this education budget in a state of perpetual crisis, and to me, this is not acceptable,” she said. Sen. Michelle Stennett (D-Ketchum) said that while she supported the budget, it needs to be viewed in the context of a wave of recent school levies that still raised people’s taxes by another means.
The budget raises the minimum teacher salary to $30,500. However, the teacher minimum remains $1,250 below the minimum teacher salary of Fiscal Year 2009. S1410 does include classified employees, but not teachers, in 2 percent raises the state plans for its public employees. Still, many Idaho education employees – especially in the classified ranks – are working below current federal poverty guidelines of $20,426 for a two-person household and $31,118 for a family of four.
S1410 funds the shift from salary based apportionment to pay for one year of the pay-for-performance and technology mandates passed by the 2011 Legislature. However, it seems less likely than ever that the Legislature will fully cover those shifts for the years beyond FY2013. Although Sen. Cameron advanced and the Senate unanimously approved S1331 to do that, the House Education Committee on Tuesday will hear H656, a bill from Rep. Bob Nonini (R-Coeur d’Alene), together with another piece of legislation he is putting forward on the same topic.
H656 would reduce by 2.38 percent the salary shifts ordered by last year’s laws, the same amount already approved for FY 2013 via S1410. But school districts already took a hit on salary based apportionment this year, and Nonini’s bill would see salary-based apportionment cut by 3.92 percent in FY2014; 4.04 percent in FY15; 3.83 percent in FY16; and 3.36 percent in FY17 and every year thereafter, all to fund the bonus pay and technology mandates passed last year. The only way to stop these shifts altogether is to overturn the 2011 laws by voting NO on Propositions 1, 2, and 3 this November.
In what may have been the shortest committee meeting of the 2012 Idaho Legislature, the Senate Education Committee took four minutes to pass H672 to the full Senate. This bill allows school districts to use facility maintenance money for other non-personnel needs for a fourth year.
The House passed H694, the bill that purports to “clean up” a badly written portion of S1108 from 2011 which requires school districts to provide lists of liability insurance carriers for teachers. In debate, Rep. Donna Pence (D-Gooding) said the provision was onerous for school districts and the new version does little to help. Rep. Brian Cronin (D-Boise) said the bill does nothing to help students and is in fact nothing but a way to give free advertising to a “non-union” Washington state-based organization that has had little success in its efforts to lure educators away from the Idaho Education Association. It now goes to the Senate side, where it may or may not get a hearing in the final days of the 2012 session.
Sen. Bert Brackett (R-Rogerson) asked that lawmakers pull H588, which would have allowed the Bruneau-Grand View district more leverage in negotiating costs with Nevada for Idaho students who must attend a school across the border, where officials have been charging $700,000 a year for 60 students. But according to a brief from the Associated Press, “the mere threat of legislation was enough” and the Nevada district has already agreed to cuts its fees.