BOISE The Idaho State Legislature's budget committee set the K-12 schools budget last Monday, Feb. 29, at a 6.8 percent increase over last year’s, but several policy items remain pending.
More funding will likely come in the form of "trailer bills" bringing the increase up to around 7.4 percent, still short of the governor's proposed 7.9.
The committee funded the second year of the career ladder to increase teacher pay, as expected, and also appropriated $5 million for career counseling and $2.3 million for professional development.
The committee passed the budget following a failed substitute motion from Democrats for a budget with changes resulting in an 8.2 percent increase.
“The real difference here is line item one, where we are increasing funding by $5 million to the discretionary funds,” said Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, speaking in support of the motion. “When I talk to the schools in my district, this is the issue that comes up – discretionary funding.”
Education Committee Chair Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, opposed the substitute motion, saying there are already other items in the budget that take care of the need for discretionary funding, a line item that appropriates funds to schools for use at their discretion.
Budget Co-chair Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, who said at the start of the session she would have liked to have seen more discretionary funding in the governor’s proposed education budget, voted against the motion which failed 4-15, along party lines.
“Every dollar that comes from the state helps relieve supplemental levies,” Keough said. “So we were able to add a little more to the discretionary than the governor recommended, but we also recognize there are other costs both in the K-12 and the budget overall.”
Of the four trailer bills most likely to be added to the education budget, the one the committee focused on was a bill that could cost as much as $10.7 million to provide literacy intervention to students in kindergarten through third grade who are reading below grade level.
Keough said she and Co-chair Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, agreed the committee would not get ahead of the rest of the legislature and would wait until the literacy bill is passed to fund it.
The bill would go alongside a second bill, by Rep. VanOrden, R-Pingree, to involve parents in the intervention process. This bill would require the school create a plan for the student and require they contact parents soon after diagnosis of a deficiency to be involved in its creation.
“A lot of times, the only direct connections with parents are when things go wrong,” VanOrden said. “This bill is more proactive.”
The bills saw criticisms, Thursday, over the use of the Idaho Reading Indicator as the assessment to determine the need for intervention. VanOrden said she agreed the Indicator has issues and that the assessment could be improved or replaced, but that she still wants to go forward with the bills and start the process now.
At a press event the next day, Speaker of the House Scott Bedke and Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill spoke favorably of the literacy bills, but Hill said he thought success in the area, in addition to the legislation, will require change outside the legislature’s jurisdiction.
“The only thing we can change is the schools,” Hill said. “I think we need a societal change. There’s more public understanding that needs to be achieved about how important that is.”