House Republicans kill $1.1B budget for teacher salaries
Killing the budget raises even more uncertainty about adjourning the session
The rotunda at the Idaho State Capitol building on March 23, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
Thirty-four House Republicans killed the $1.1 billion public school budget for Idaho teacher salaries Tuesday, raising even more uncertainty about the Legislature’s ability to adjourn the session.
Hardline conservative legislators led opposition to House Bill 354 after a 70-minute debate that was dominated by conservatives’ concerns that social justice and critical race theory teachings were being presented to teachers or entering Idaho classrooms.
The bill, representing the largest general fund spending request of the year, eventually failed on a 34-34 vote.
“Schools are not like they used to be,” Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, said. “There is a lot of ideology coming into our schools.”
Several current and retired educators serving in the Legislature said the concerns are unfounded, and there is no reason to fear widespread problems throughout the massive K-12 public education system that includes about 20,000 teachers.
“My head is just absolutely spinning right now listening to a lot of this debate,” said Rep. John McCrostie, a Garden City Democrat and public school music teacher.
“This whole discussion on critical race theory coming into classrooms this year, that’s nuts,” McCrostie said, raising his voice.
Republicans who voted down the budget said they want the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee to reconvene and draft a new budget. They want to insert language that would prohibit $9 million worth of federal funding for teachers’ professional development training going toward social justice programs. Some legislators said they also have a problem with equity being taught in schools.
“Redistribution of resources is not equity, it is socialism,” said Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird. “And it does not need to be in our education system.”
The budget’s failure would seem likely to deflate any hopes of adjourning the session this week.
The Idaho Constitution requires the Legislature pass a balanced budget and “maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of free common schools.”
The new budget would need to take effect July 1, on the first day of the state’s new budget year.
What does this mean for adjournment?
Rep. Wendy Horman, R- Idaho Falls, speculated that JFAC, the joint budget committee, could reconvene, draft a new bill with the same funding level or $100 more, insert language to protect Republicans’ concerns and have it back for a vote in a day or two.
But JFAC’s co-chairman, Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa, said it would probably take more like three or four days. And that assumes four other budgets that make up the public school budget would pass without any other difficulties.
“It might take, who knows, a week,” Youngblood said.
This is the third major budget the House has killed since returning from recess April 6.
Last week, the House killed the $315 million general fund higher education budget after legislators voiced similar social justice concerns over a series of diversity and inclusivity programs at colleges and universities, particularly Boise State University.
The House also killed the $200 million budget for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s Division of Medicaid budget last week after conservatives attacked $34 million in federal COVID relief funding to provide loans to help child care providers stay in business.
In March, the House also killed a bill that would allow the state to spend $6 million in federal grants to support early childhood education, Idaho Education News reported. The Idaho Senate passed a new, rewritten version of the $6 million grant bill on Monday by a single vote, Boise State Public Radio reported.
As for Tuesday’s school budget that failed, it would have included $44.9 million in new state funding for teacher pay through the Legislature’s career ladder salary allocation system. All told, more than $884 million would have gone to teacher salaries for the 2022-23 school year.
“I just feel like we need to (know) whether or not the intent is (there), our teachers do take this as a slap in the face,” Rep. Linda Wright Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, said. “They are a good, good bunch of people and I totally support them.”
Rep. Ryan Kerby, a New Plymouth Republican and retired school administrator, asked his Republican colleagues to “not throw a sledgehammer though this and upset the whole deal.”
Tuesday is the 93rd day of the 2021 session; that total includes the 17-day recess legislators abruptly called following a COVID-19 outbreak in the Statehouse. The longest session of the past 10 years ran for 95 days in 2019. The longest session in state history ran for 118 days in 2003.
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