BOISE — Seven fiscal 2020 public school budgets sailed through the House floor with minimal opposition and almost no debate Tuesday.
The budgets collectively provide $2.26 billion in total funding. That includes $1.89 billion in general fund support, an increase of $109 million or 6.1 percent over the current year.
Democrats unanimously backed all seven budgets. Nine Republicans — including Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird — opposed some or all of the bills.
Giddings voted for the school administration division, as well as central services and the School for the Deaf and Blind. She opposed the teachers division budget, as well as the operations, children’s programs and facilities budgets.
She did not respond to questions after the floor session, but subsequently provided a written explanation of her votes. She noted that the career ladder salary appropriation in the teachers division was higher than projected when that plan was initially put in place. It also lacks the accountability standards that were discussed at that time.
“They’ve still failed to provide a metric for teacher performance or student achievement,” Giddings said. “Throwing money at the problem isn’t helping our teachers or students.”
Similarly, she questioned the efficacy of doubling the literacy funding in the children’s division budget, from $13 million to $26.1 million.
“Even with a $13 million budget, only 52 percent of third-graders are reading at grade level,” she said. “Additionally, 76 percent of this budget comes from federal funds, which require the state to adhere to federal guidelines. Doing more of the same will not help our children learn to read.”
State officials reported last fall that 52.5 percent of children in grades K-3 were reading at grade level; the figures ranged from 42.9 percent for first-graders to 61.2 percent for third-graders.
Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, offered the only floor debate on any of the K-12 budgets. He noted that lawmakers increased the state sales tax by 1 percent in 2006. in exchange for eliminating a statewide property tax for schools.
“The (school) maintenance and operations tax burden shifted to the state, and the state was supposed to pay for schools,” he said. “Instead, we keep seeing local (school) property tax levies and overrides. We aren’t keeping the deal we made in 2006 because the (school) funding isn’t adequate to avoid local property tax increases.”
Gannon voted to support the school budgets, but encouraged lawmakers to stop pulling money from the general fund to pay for transportation or to provide tax relief.
The budget bills now go to the Senate. The plans include:
- $49.7 million for the fifth and final year of the career ladder teacher pay plan
- A 3 percent base salary increase for school administrators and classified staff, worth about $7.3 million
- A $21.8 million, 3.4 percent increase in the discretionary funding that school districts use to pay for health care, utilities and other general expenses
- A 99 percent, $13.1 million increase in K-3 literacy funding.
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