Day 33: Flexibility Bill Finally Passes Senate
by Angela Palm on 4/1/2010

HB 908, the much-amended flexibility bill, passed the Senate today 33-11.  A floor amendment struck the provision for shortening the school year.  The rationale is that it is a State Board rule that requires the 190 day contract for teachers, so the State Board can waive it.  Since the bill was amended in the Senate, it must now go back to the House for them to agree or disagree.  There is a general understanding that the House and Governor will agree with the Senate version.  May they do so quickly.

House Passes Requirement for Tax Exemption Report

SB 206, requiring a report of tax exemptions and their amounts be part of the annual budget report, passed the House today.  After waiting a year to bring it to the floor for a vote, it surprisingly passed unanimously.  As the House Appropriations Committee amended the bill, it now goes back to the Senate for them to agree or disagree with the changes.

Guns Bill Heard in Subcommittee

SB 308, the Senate guns bill, was heard in the Setzler Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.  The bill's sponsor was surprised with a Committee substitute; they don't usually consider that a good thing.  The bill seeks to strike the 1,000 foot safety zone surrounding schools and just exempt the building and grounds of schools among other things.  After a heated discussion about the changes being made to current law regarding schools, it was recommended that people continue to work on the bill together to address their differences.

Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee Sort of Meets

The Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee met today -- well the Chairman was present and for a while so was another member.  The purpose was to review the Department of Education's recommendations for the additional $16 million in cuts that the Governor requested when he lowered the revenue estimate.  The Governor exempted QBE and equalization from this round of cuts.  The majority of the $16 million was found in familiar places:

  • Cut transportation an additional 4% -- $5 million
  • Cut nutrition an additional 11% -- $3.3 million
  • Cut the Severely Emotionally Disturbed program and GNETS an additional 3% -- $2 million
  • Eliminate 1st grade CRCT and SAT online test prep -- $1.3 million

So far no legislation to eliminate the first grade CRCT has passed, so that recommendation is in question.  The remainder of the $16 million came from fourteen other recommendations including another $500,000 cut from the central office of the Department.  

An interesting discussion was held on why fewer systems are meeting the requirement that 65% of all revenue be spent on direct instruction as defined in the statute. Department of Education officials did a good job explaining the issue.  Chair Dan Moody asked what systems are doing with shared services to control the other 35% of costs.  He expressed concern that systems are going to get caught off guard with the drop in property taxes and state funding and suggested the Department of Education try to get ahead of the problem by sharing information on this topic.

On The Budget Front

The House Appropriations Subcommittees have once again scheduled meetings.  The Education Subcommittee will meet at 8 AM, Monday, April 12, in 341 CAP.  The meetings this week were cancelled due to Senate maneuvers with the hospital tax.

The Senate finally passed the apparently vital hospital tax tonight.  It took two breaks and a few hours, but it passed with two votes to spare.  Hopefully the Doctor of the Day was still around to help mend the twisted arms.

This vote moves us one step closer to having the legislation in place that the 2011 budget needs.  The Senate is to vote on the other necessary piece -- which increases fees to raise another $90 million -- when they return.

The General Assembly is now in recess until 10 AM, Monday, April 12