BOISE — The Idaho House has overwhelmingly approved seven bills to fund the public school system next year.

One bill passed unanimously, one received one “no” vote, and the others drew six to nine “no” votes, from a handful of the most conservative Republicans in the House. The funding bills now head to the Senate.

The bills add up to an increase of $109 million, or 6.1 percent, over the current budget year, said Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, House vice chairwoman of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. Overall education spending could go up by closer to $113 million — a separate bill to boost starting teacher pay to $40,000 a year over two years hasn’t yet been passed by the Senate and wasn’t included in the budgets that passed the House on Tuesday. This pay increase, which passed the Senate Education Committee Monday and awaits a vote in the full chamber, is separate from a $50 million teacher pay raise that is part of the last year of the implementation of the state’s five-year “career ladder” plan to boost teacher pay; this was included in the budgets that passed Tuesday.

The budgets that passed Tuesday also include a $13 million increase in early childhood literacy funding that Gov. Brad Little had requested.

Other than brief introductory statements by the lawmakers sponsoring each bill, the only debate came from Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise. Gannon pointed to the nine bonds and 38 supplemental property tax levies on the upcoming March 12 ballot and blamed the 2006 tax shift, which got rid of a property tax levy that helped fund schools statewide and replaced it with a 1 percent bump in the sales tax, for increasing the financial pressure on school districts.

“We’re not really keeping our deal that was made back in 2006 when the funding is not adequate to avoid property tax increases,” he said.

Horman replied that state education spending is set to increase significantly next year, and that public schools plus higher education make up almost 63 percent of the state’s general fund spending. Also, she said, other budgets such as Medicaid are coming in high for next year.

“We are doing our best to keep the pedal to the metal to spend and dedicate as much funds as we can to K-through-12,” she said.

Rep. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, said she voted against five of the seven bills because she is against increasing spending.

“I really think we need to get spending under control,” Nichols said.

Nichols voted in support of two of the bills, one that decreases spending plus the bill funding programs for the deaf and blind. These two got zero and one “no” votes, respectively.

Idaho Press Reporter Erin Bamer contributed.

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.

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