- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 19, 2014

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Lawmakers in Idaho’s House of Representatives have approved the state’s public schools budget, including a 1 percent pay increase for teachers and administrators and money to improve classroom technology.

The $1.37 billion budget passed the House in a series of seven bills Wednesday evening and now goes to the Senate. The money was a bit less than the 5.4 percent increase State Schools Superintendent Tom Luna had hoped for, but it was well over the 2.9 percent increase recommended by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter at the start of the year.

The budget for kindergarten through twelfth grade was broken up into seven bills, and all passed easily. The budget is about 5 percent higher than last year’s, but it’s still about $43 million short of the budget schools shared in the 2008-2009 school year, before the Great Recession took its toll on state spending.

Supporters said they felt it was important to hold money back this year to rebuild the state’s rainy-day fund in case the economy again turns sour.

“When our economy is stable, I hope we can give some more money to education,” said Rep. Lucinda Agidius, R-Moscow. But Agidius said Idaho’s children are performing well on college entrance exams compared to students nationwide, despite the funding cuts made in recent years.

Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, spoke against the administrator salary bill, saying she believes school administration already uses too much money.

“What we’ve got is a problem with too much - can I say the word ‘crap,’ Mr. Speaker? - We have too much of that in our school system,” Wood said. “We’ve gotten too laden down with other stuff besides teaching.”

Wood said the money would be better spent making colleges more affordable for high school graduates.

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, said she was voting against the legislation to give teachers a 1 percent salary increase because it didn’t go far enough. She said the state was giving short shrift to its most experienced teachers.

Teachers with the most experience have lost at least 10 percent of their expected pay since fiscal year 2009, Ringo said, and the 1 percent boost won’t bring them close to where they should be.

“Where schools have done well, it’s because of the experienced and loyal teachers,” Ringo said. “…Regrettably I would have to say that this appropriation is not worth a ‘yes’ vote.”

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