Over the course of Monday afternoon, the House finally broke a deadlock on several key education budgets – including the litigation budget for higher education.
The House approved the higher budget on a 49-20 vote. The higher budget has yet to be passed by the Senate, but Monday’s vote in the House was critical. In mid-March, the Senate approved a similar, and slightly larger, spending plan for Idaho’s four four-year establishments; the House overwhelmingly rejected this budget on April 7.
The new House-approved higher education budget allocates around $ 313.1 million in taxpayer dollars. That’s about $ 2 million less than Governor Brad Little asked for and about $ 2 million less than the first draft of the budget.
In total – including tax dollars, tuition and student fees, and other funding – the budget allocates more than $ 629.8 million to four-year institutions.
The new version of the budget slashed $ 2.5 million aimed at eliminating and discouraging social justice programs – $ 1.5 million from Boise State University and $ 500,000 each from the University of Idaho and at Idaho State University. The budget would provide an additional $ 400,000 to Lewis-Clark State College, in the hopes of allowing the college to balance its books without increasing tuition fees.
Unsurprisingly, social justice was a recurring theme in Monday’s debate in the House. While Tories have said the budget does not go far enough to curb social justice programs, several Republicans have invoked House Bill 377 – the controversial and recently signed law against state indoctrination.
“We have made a strong political statement against discrimination,” said Representative Wendy Horman of R-Idaho Falls.
At one point, Representative Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, berated Tories for insulting the indoctrination issue, saying higher education leaders got the message.
“They are not dead, they have doctorates,” Troy said.
Monday’s debate summed up the higher education debate that spanned the 113-day session – the third longest session in state history:
- Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, pushed to kill this budget and write an additional $ 18 million in cuts – mirroring the Idaho Freedom Foundation talking points. The foundation said it set the costs for social justice programs at $ 20 million per year, but repeatedly ignored requests for details.
- Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, urged the House to divide this budget bill into four bills – one for each of the state’s four-year institutions. The Conservatives have called for budget splits so that the cost of social justice programs in each institution can be considered separately.
- As a person of color, Representative Chris Mathias said he was “saddened” by the tone of the debate on social justice programs, saying the controversy was having a negative effect on students and the state business community. . “I can’t be content with whims anymore,” said Mathias, D-Boise. “I need to hear real stories.”
Monday afternoon’s ground session was tense and truncated. Nate, Scott and Rep. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, took turns opposing Mathias’ debate and comments on critical race theory and social justice. House Speaker Scott Bedke briefly interrupted debate – then the House recessed for two hours, allowing committees to meet.
Monday’s Upper House vote marks a key milestone on the way to adjourning the 2021 legislative session, the third longest session in state history. Monday was day 113 of this year’s session, five days short of the record set in 2003.
Teachers’ budget runs through the house
Twenty days after the House voted against a $ 1.1 billion teachers’ salary budget, it was a whole different story on Monday.
Without debate, the House passed the salary budget on a 68-0 vote.
The largest of the state’s seven K-12 budget bills, House Bill 385 is essentially unchanged from its predecessor. The only change is a $ 1 million increase for additional teacher training.
The biggest change, however, is the timing. The adoption of HB 377 was clearly a factor in Monday’s unanimous vote. When opponents voted against the original teacher salary bill, lawmakers spent little time talking about the budget itself or teacher salary increases. Instead, they focused on the specter of social justice and the critical teaching of racial theory in schools, offering anecdotal evidence but no details.
Indeed, HB 385 would cover two years of salary increases below the state’s teacher career ladder, funding increases put on hold last year in the wake of the pandemic.
Also on Monday, the House passed two more K-12 budgets:
The House passed the K-12 “operations” budget, also by a 68-0 vote. This budget covers a multitude of school posts: salaries of classified personnel, such as class assistants and bus drivers; school technology; transport; and discretionary funding that helps districts and charters cover the costs of employee benefits.
On Monday night, the House passed a bill authorizing the state and schools spend over $ 454 million in federal coronavirus stimulus funding. The money comes from the American Rescue Plan Act, passed in March. The bill drew limited opposition, with Nate urging his colleagues to reject federal funding in the interest of fiscal conservatism. “We are the keepers of this. No one else can say no to the federal government. The bill was passed, 56-10.
Both budgets now go to the Senate.
Education budgets slide in the Senate
Almost undisputed and never debated, four education budgets were easily adopted on Monday, as the Senate resumed its activities. the
“We were waiting for these,” said Senator Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, triggering a series of unanimous and near-unanimous votes on the budgets passed by the House.
Here is what the Senate adopted:
A budget that helps pay the salaries of administrators such as directors and superintendents. Under House Bill 353, the budget will see a 2 percent increase next school year, plus increased funding for charter schools that took in more students during the pandemic. Bottom line: Budgets show a 3.8% funding increase in K-12 government spending.
A Budget for Children’s Programs, which primarily distributes money from federal coronavirus relief programs. House Bill 356 would pay for programs like the state’s Advanced Opportunities program, which pays for high school students to achieve college credit through dual-credit classes and advanced placement tests. According to federal guidelines, much of the money, coming from the federal relief program in December, will be used to combat learning loss caused by a pandemic.
A “central services” budget, House Bill 358, which pays for things like technology and the curriculum, mostly with money from the general state fund. Some federal relief will also be used to fund the budget.
House Bill 372 would pay for broadband improvements and administration of federal relief funds through a mixture of federal and state dollars. It would also finance a large number of budget lines for education. Unlike the other budgets, which were adopted unanimously, HB 372 voted 33 to 1.
All four bills are now going to Governor Brad Little’s office.
Idaho Education News remotely covered some of Monday’s hearings.
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