BOISE • State lawmakers are back on track to end the 2013 session this week.
On Tuesday, the Senate State Affairs Committee introduced a compromise bill designed to bring together opposing factions who disagree on the proposed public schools budget, which the Senate voted down last week 17-18.
What does that mean, and what’s next? Here’s the rundown.
What does this bill do? It takes two pieces of the original appropriations bill — technology grants and teacher merit pay — and puts them into state code instead of in an appropriations budget.
Why? When the Senate voted down the original education budget, much of the opposition focused more on process than the actual budget. Specifically, many of those who voted “no” wanted those two pieces of the budget — technology grants and merit pay for teachers — to go through policy committees, where they would be subject to public hearings.
So what’s different? Almost nothing, other than minor language additions about student achievement in the merit pay section. Expect few to no changes in the new budget bill, too, said Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. But remember, many of the objections last week weren’t about the policies or numbers, but about the process.
Will the compromise be enough? Almost certainly. Remember, the Senate rejected the education budget by one vote. Assuming everyone who voted “yes” on the first bill votes in favor of the mostly unchanged new bill, only one more person needs to vote “yes” for the new appropriations budget to pass. They may already have that vote: Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur D’Alene and chairman of the education committee, sponsored Tuesday’s compromise bill after voting against the budget last week.
What about discretionary spending? This type of funding gives individual schools freedom to pick where to spend the money. Some critics of last week’s budget, like Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, had argued its level of discretionary spending wasn’t enough.
That’s something that won’t change in the new budget. Though that won’t make some of the opposition happy, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna pointed out that the budget already includes a 1.5 percent increase in discretionary spending — more than the zero percent Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter recommended.
What’s next? Both the House and Senate education committees will hold public hearings on Tuesday’s compromise bill. The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, which sets the state budget, will meet today to vote on the new, largely unchanged public education budget. Both the compromise bill and the new budget have to pass both the House and Senate, which could happen as early as Thursday. After that, the Legislature will likely adjourn for the session.