Legislature Ed Committees Advance 11th Hour Plans For Merit Pay, Technology

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Lawmakers returned to the Capitol Wednesday morning for what many thought was a done deal. Members of the Senate and House Education committees assembled in the Lincoln Auditorium to take up Idaho's $1.3 billion public schools budget, killed by a one-vote margin in the Senate March 27.

Technology and teacher pay-for-performance were the major sticking points cited in a narrow vote against last week's $1.3 billion budget proposal.

That vote led to a new plan, Senate Bill 1199, considered by both House and Senate Education committees Wednesday morning. However, lawmakers found little resistance to plans changing how discretionary funds are distributed to districts for so-called "differential pay" and "technology pilot projects."

Stakeholders testified they were more comfortable with plans to allow a selection committee to award funds for merit-based professional development and technology grants to Idaho's public and charter schools.

"We’ll bring in outside folks that will not only help develop the criteria, but will be used to make recommendations on the awardees," Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna told committee members.

Representatives from the Idaho Education Association, Idaho School Board Association and Idaho Association of School Administrators all testified their support of the proposal.

But Boise Democratic Sen. Branden Durst expressed misgivings about implementing the components prior to the recommendations of a interim committee and governor's task force designed to evaluate Idaho's education system after the Legislature adjourns.

"I don’t understand why this state would, as a policy matter, start going down the road of a differential pay system or technology projects when there’s clearly going to be two groups now looking at education policy in the state of Idaho," said Durst.

Durst told lawmakers pay-for-performance had been tried before, and rejected by the voters. Twin Falls Republican Sen. Jim Patrick said he happened to agree with "one or two things Sen. Durst said."

"However I feel much better about going through with this thing, because we've had a good testimony and we didn't have any opposition," he said.

Ultimately the members of the Senate Education Committee voted to approve the bill, which must now travel to the House Education Committee for a vote.

"I think you’ve heard some very encouraging things today about this Senate bill. It should be noted the broad support for things that in the past we’ve struggled to find broad consensus on," Luna told committee members.