BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho's Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra on Thursday asked state budget writers to raise the public school budget 6.8 percent next year.
The Spokesman-Review reports Ybarra's biggest portion of her proposed increase would go to raise teachers' salaries. Currently, Ybarra has carved out $46.6 million for teacher salaries, which would boost pay for new teachers to $35,800 a year for fiscal year 2018-2019.
"Today's public school budget request reflects the top priority I've heard in conversations around the state from our superintendents, our teachers, our trustees, our business leaders, our parents and many, many more," Ybarra said.
If approved, Idaho's total public school funding would bump up nearly $114 million more than what lawmakers allocated this year for a total of $1.78 billion. It's the single largest chunk of the state's budget, making up for more than 48 percent of state spending.
She also boasted that her budget doesn't include any new initiatives or new line items after receiving input from education stakeholders.
According to Ybarra, the message she's receiving is simple: "Stay the course, keep the target attainable, trust in our local boards."
Yet while Ybarra said the state is on the right track, she also added that Idaho is facing educator shortages and a rise in teachers using alternate routes to certification.
Two recent studies — one from the Idaho State Board of Education and the other commissioned from Ybarra's office — show Idaho's teachers are becoming less experienced, particularly in high-poverty schools.
"We are also seeing some of our most disadvantaged students . served by our least experienced teachers," Ybarra said, emphasizing the need for mentorship options and working to create a culture where being an educator is valued.
Meanwhile, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter has asked lawmakers for a 6 percent increase in state funding for public schools. The key difference between the two proposals is that Ybarra's outline includes a $14 million increase in discretionary funding for school districts. Otter has recommended no increase in discretionary funding and instead wants to wait until an interim legislative panel finishes its recommendations on revamping the state's school funding formula next year.
However, key budget writers on the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee on Thursday said that discretionary funds are important for school districts.
"The school districts are really hampered if they don't have the flexibility that provides," said Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, and co-chair of the budget-setting committee. "Our locally elected school boards need that flexibility."
Ybarra also asked for higher salaries for school administrator and classified staff — like janitors or lunch room workers — while Otter didn't include those recommendations.
JFAC will begin setting state agency budgets in mid-February. While the proposals will still need to pass the Senate and House, budgets rarely change once set by JFAC.
Information from: The Spokesman-Review, http://www.spokesman.com