Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee co-chair Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, directs committee business at the Idaho State Capitol building on Jan. 11, 2023. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
The Idaho Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee reached a major checkpoint in this year’s legislative session as it finished setting the fiscal year 2024 state budget Tuesday and signed off on a 16.4% increase in state funding for K-12 public schools.
Altogether, JFAC approved a $378.6 million increase in state general fund spending for public schools. That includes a $145 million increase in state funding for teacher raises — enough for the state to send an additional $6,359 per teacher to school districts and charter schools. That brings that statewide minimum starting teacher salary in Idaho to $47,477 next year.
That starting salary meets a major goal Gov. Brad Little outlined in his Jan. 9 State of the State address, where he called to increase starting teacher pay to place in the top 10 nationally based on 2020-21 National Education Association data.
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The $378.6 million increase in state general fund spending also satisfies the $330 million funding increase for public schools that legislators approved in House Bill 1 during the Sept. 1 special session.
In a statement released by his office Tuesday, Little called the budget JFAC set a promise kept.
“Thank you to JFAC for your support of our public schools this morning!” Little wrote. “You put Idaho students and families first by approving increased pay for teachers and classified staff across the board. We’re making the teaching profession in Idaho more competitive and rewarding, which keeps great teachers in the classroom to help our students achieve.”
“Last September, we secured historic investments in public schools and workforce training while cutting taxes, and 80-percent of Idaho voters approved the move,” Little added. “This is a ‘promises made, promises kept’ moment, and I am proud of my legislative partners for putting Idaho first.”
The K-12 budget JFAC set Tuesday was broken into seven divisions, and each will be written up as a separate budget bill that will need to pass the Idaho House of Representatives and Idaho Senate.
In terms of total state general fund dollars, the budget is the largest for public schools in Idaho history.
Idaho Education Association President Layne McInelly said in a statement released Tuesday that the increases, if passed, will allow school districts to pay a livable wage to education support professionals and classified school district employees, including office assistants, nurses, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, classroom paraprofessionals and others
“These proposed budgets show all educators — both certified teachers and classified educators — the respect they deserve by providing the competitive, fair compensation Idahoans want them to have,” McInelly said in the statement. “They are a bold and important step toward reversing Idaho’s decades of chronical underfunding of public education and begins to address many of the challenges facing our public schools, including the ongoing educator vacancy crisis crippling school districts across the state.”
In an interview Tuesday, JFAC co-chair Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, said the public school budgets include “historic numbers.”
Horman told the Idaho Capital Sun the raises for teachers and school classified employees who do not require a teaching certificate, such as information technology specialists, paraprofessionals or clerical workers, are larger than the raises approved for other state employees. The state is sending school districts and charters enough money to pay for raises of $6,359 for all teachers through the career ladder salary allocation system, but teacher salaries in Idaho are negotiated at the local district level each year and vary between school districts and charter schools.
There is also additional money outside of the public schools budgets for arts grants, public school safety and career-technical education, she said.
“It is a huge investment in public schools,” Horman told the Sun. “And we hope that districts will see the investment that is being made here and give property tax relief to their property tax payers.”
Horman said she hopes the education funding increases from the Idaho Legislature will curb local school districts’ needs to put forward supplemental levies to local voters.
Passing the 2024 budget moves Idaho’s legislative session closer to adjournment
The K-12 public school budgets were among the largest and one of the last aspects of the state’s fiscal year 2024 budget that needed to be set. JFAC’s original deadline to finish setting the 2024 budget was Friday, but JFAC’s budget setting hearing schedule was affected last week by ceremonies honoring the late Idaho Gov. Phil Batt.
Republican legislative leaders are working to adjourn the 2023 legislative session for the year on March 24 — the end of next week. As a general rule of thumb, it takes about two weeks for budget bills to be written and have the time to pass through both legislative chambers. However, legislators are able to suspend rules and work quickly in the final days of a legislative session.
For the session to adjourn on time, all of the budget bills would need to pass both legislative chambers and be signed into law. If either the Idaho House or Idaho Senate kills a budget bill this week or next, that could extend the session beyond the March 24 target deadline. A legislative impasse over a major pending bill like the new property tax bill could also threaten to extend the session.
Even though the 2024 budget is set, JFAC will meet again Wednesday morning to consider transfers. There are also a handful of bills circulating that would spend additional state money if they are passed into law. If those bills pass, JFAC may reconvene to draft so-called trailer bills to provide funding for those bills. They are called trailer bills because they follow behind a traditional agency budget.
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