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State passes $1.3 billion for 2014 education budget

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, which met Monday in Boise to vote on the education budget for fiscal year 2014, voted to release a two-year-old freeze on the system that sets teacher pay.

It passed a 1.3 billion spending plan for 2014, which is an increase of more than 2 percent compared to 2013’s budget.

The public education budget is by far the largest in Idaho, weighing in at about 47 percent of state spending.

Part of the budget allows $11.3 million for teacher salaries. After Monday’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee vote, teachers will now be paid according to experience and level of education.

Idaho had paid teachers based on a matrix combining years of service and their level of education, but in 2011, the grid was frozen to save money.

The committee will also increase first-year teacher minimum pay to $31,000, which is up by $500 from 2013.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna said he’s glad the budget also pays for high school students to earn college credits.

“(That) not only puts them on a track toward a post-secondary degree or certificate, but has very positive financial consequences for students and families looking at how to afford education after high school,” said Luna.

Idaho ranks among the lowest states for the percentage of students going to college.

The measure also added about $13 million for local districts to reward employees who do a good job improving student achievement.

The state is also putting a big emphasis on technology -$13.4 millionis slated for technology updates. Luna said he’s optimistic about new pilot programs. $2 milliondollars will go toward a complete wireless Internet system in Idaho schools.

Technology changes will be awarded to local districts in the form of competitive grants.

Luna also added thatthe budget cuts in Washington will cause Idaho to lose $6.6 million for K-12 education, but he said the immediate impact will be minimal.

The budget measure still must win the approval of the full Legislature.

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