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A big hearing on Idaho’s K-12 budget: a preview …

Week Nine of the 2013 Legislature begins with a big hearing: On Monday morning, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee will tackle the public schools budget.

With that comes, perhaps, some answers to some key questions:

  • What will budget writers do with the $34 million that Gov. Butch Otter and state schools superintendent Tom Luna earmarked for an education reform task force? The task force won’t have recommendations for the 2013 Legislature — and, as a result, they won’t have use for the $34 million in 2013-14. Does this money stay in K-12, as Luna and members of the Legislature’s education committees want? And if so, where does it go? Technology, professional development and pilot merit pay projects could be among the options.
  • Which bottom line prevails? Luna wants a 3 percent increase for K-12; Otter requested a 2 percent increase. Where does JFAC come down on this $13 million difference?
  • What about the line items? In settling the differences between the Luna and Otter budget proposals, JFAC will have to decide on a host of line items — requested by Luna, but not by Otter. This laundry list includes, among others, $10.4 million for school technology programs; $4.85 million to hire math and science teachers; and $3.755 million for professional development to support Common Core implementation.
  • What happens to Idaho Digital Learning Academy? Enrollment is growing at the state-sponsored online school, and both Otter and Luna want to give IDLA a budget boost. Luna has requested $6.45 million, a $1.4 million increase; Otter has requested $9.6 million.
  • What about starting teacher pay? Luna wants an increase from $30,500 to $31,000. Otter makes no such recommendation.
  • Does JFAC earmark any money for charter school facilities? A bill providing $1.4 million for charter facilities hasn’t passed the Legislature; it’s headed for the House floor. Do budget-writers set aside money for this proposal?
  • And what about sequestration? On Friday, JFAC heard a lot of numbers, and a lot of speculation, about how the mandatory federal budget cuts could affect state agencies. Schools could endure the deepest hits, in areas such as Title I and special education, although the cuts won’t be felt until the 2013-14 budget year. Does JFAC try to backfill any of these potential losses?

Kevin Richert is a reporter and blogger at Idaho Education News (idahoednews.org). Kevin is a former Statesman editorial page editor, with 27 year's experience in Idaho journalism.

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