With nine freshmen on his 16-member panel, House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt began their initiation with what some might liken to the Legislature's version of frat house hazing -- a review of the budget impacts of voter repeal of Propositions 1, 2 and 3 in November.
At the close of a 75-minute session with a top budget analyst, DeMordaunt surveyed his committee. "Alright," he said, "I'll assume you all understand this perfectly," bringing laughter from the committee.
More seriously, said DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, "I think it's important for this committee to understand the consequences of the citizens actions on those referendums."
DeMordaunt is himself a new chairman, one of seven new leaders of the House's 14 standing committees. DeMordaunt, a second-term lawmaker, is beginning his third session.
DeMordaunt invited Paul Headlee, the Legislature's budget analyst for public schools, to outline the impacts of repeal and three major options for the 2013 session. He also distributed a sheet prepared by the State Department of Education which outlines the impacts on Idaho's 115 school districts.
In short, lawmakers have to decide whether to reappropriate about $31 million in fiscal 2013, which ends June 30, or simply let it remain in the kitty until year's end and be transferred to the savings account for K-12 education, the Public Education Stabilization Fund.
"All of these numbers we need to have a discussion about," DeMordaunt said. "We're not going to have that discussion today."
DeMordaunt said he plans to have the committee make a recommendation to the Joint Finance-Appropriation Committee, which will decide the matter. If lawmakers seek to restore some spending, they aim to act swiftly because the next regular payment made to school districts is scheduled for Feb. 15.
"I want to get the information out there so they see the numbers, the impacts on their specific districts and have the opportunity to find out how some of the districts are feeling about this," DeMordaunt said.
DeMordaunt said hasn't yet set a date for the committee to discuss a recommendation, but said, "You'll hear it well before the 15th."
The largest appropriation removed by voters was about $25 million for "use it or lose it" funds, which allowed districts to hire fewer teachers under a state formula and redirect the money for other purposes. Other possible targets for reappropriation include money to hire math and science teachers, adjustments to teacher pay, and the repealed one-to-one laptop program.
Headlee outlined three major options. First, take no action, which would direct the $31 million to savings. Second, reappropriate the funds. Third, direct the spending to programs and agencies outside K-12 schools, which account for about 47 percent of statewide general fund spending.
Redirecting the money to other programs, however, would require a two-thirds vote on JFAC to approve a "negative supplemental." That prospect is considered a long shot, as Democrats and GOP moderates would likely unite in opposing such a shift.