Meridian Star

March 11, 2014

Senate, house, to iron out education funding

The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN — Terri Ferguson Smith

    Meetings and a possible compromise between state senate and house leadership will determine the future of teacher pay raises.

    With less than a month left in the legislative session this year, Rep. Greg Snowden (R) of Meridian said on Monday that committee members representing both legislative chambers will hammer out details on a teacher pay raise. Both chambers have passed teacher pay raise proposals, Snowden told members of the Council of Governments, but the proposals differ and need further discussion.

    "The house version has more money in it than the senate does," Snowden said. "The senate version has the raises come quicker than the house version."

    Snowden said one of the issues he has more questions about is the senate's proposed merit pay raise for teachers.

    "It would appear to reward teachers in A and B districts which is fine; but perhaps it would penalize other teachers," Snowden said. "That's not clear yet. That's one of the reasons we need to go to a conference committee to discuss that. I am optimistic we will come forward with a teacher pay plan."

    A copy of the senate's legislation,  calls it the "School Recognition Program," which would be created to provide financial awards to public schools, paying an extra $100 per student in an A-rated school. The dollar amount drops to$75 per student in a B-rated district.

    "We just need to make sure that that's equitable and if that's a way of actually incentivizing higher performance. That's the whole idea," Snowden said.

    Snowden said the House is dropping a portion of its legislation — benchmarks.

    "The original house plan included some professional benchmarks that teachers would have to meet in order to obtain the raises. The only reason, as the speaker made clear at the time, those were included in the house bill, was to make sure that we got the senate to agree to discuss with us the topic of teacher pay raises," Snowden said. "At the time, the lieutenant governor and the leaders in the senate had indicated they were really opposed to across the board raises. We put that on the table so they would talk about it. They have come back and in their plan, they have across the board raises. The speaker's already said the benchmarks are gone. That was only a way to get the senate and house talking about a pay raise."

    Snowden also updated COG members on Monday about the state budgeting process.

    Comparing revenues and expenses from 2008, a high mark for the state, when the state took in more than $4.9 billion in revenues, Snowden said everything dropped after that, with revenues decreasing to approximately $4.4 billion by 2011.

    The current spending year — 2014 — is the first year the state's general fund revenues have made an upward comeback and slightly exceeded the robust budget of 2008, Snowden said.

    "This year's looking even better," Snowden said of the projections for the upcoming budget year. "One of the things we hear from folks; particularly the folks in education. 'Well we are back to where we were in 2008. Shouldn't that mean we should be getting the money we got in 2008?"

    Snowden said it's not that easy. Social programs, which include Medicaid, is totalling close to $1 billion, he said.

    "This is without any sort of expansion," he said. "Medicaid is continuing to balloon. That's a good $200 million more than what it was in 2008."

    The last day of the 2014 session is April 6.

"We have some severe challenges although it looks like we're crawling out of it," Snowden said.