By Kimberlee Kruesi, Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho's public schools chief is seeking a 6.8 percent increase in education spending for 2018, describing it as a budget with no surprises and no new initiatives.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra released her plan Friday. If approved by lawmakers in January, Idaho's public school funding would bump up nearly $114 million more than what lawmakers allocated this year for a total of $1.78 billion.
"Overwhelmingly, I'm hearing from educators and the public that Idaho is headed in the right direction for supporting students and teachers," Ybarra said in a prepared statement. "Idaho is seeing the positive impact of our investment evidenced in the huge increase of students taking college level classes in high schools, the early positive gains in reading, as well as districts making strides in attracting and retaining teachers."
An ongoing key feature of Ybarra's budget is more teacher salary funding, which is part of a five year plan to boost school employee pay. Ybarra wants $46.6 million more for teacher salaries, which would boost pay for new teachers to $35,800 a year for fiscal year 2018-2019.
For operational funds, Ybarra requested $27,683 per classroom to be used at their own discretion — a coveted fund that has gradually been replenished since lawmakers slashed it in the peak of the economic recession. The request is about $900 more than last year.
The proposal now goes before Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, legislative leadership and other stakeholders for review. Otter will also submit his own education budget for legislative consideration during the 2018 session.
And despite public schools making up most of the state's general fund budget, passing an education spending plan has been relatively seamless over the years as the economy has recovered. It's not unusual for lawmakers to approve the public schools budget with almost no debate and just a handful of conservatives voting no, a small group who typically votes against most budget increases.
Other budget highlights:
— $15 million for advanced opportunities, which allows students to take college credit classes and other advanced work. It's an $8 million bump from this year.
— $9 million for college and career advisers and student mentors, or $2 million more from this year.
— $36.7 million for technology for local school districts, an $8.6 million increase.
— $3.1 million for student achievement assessments, which includes $1.3 million more to focus on science assessments.
Finally, for the third time, Ybarra noted Friday that she will once again request $300,000 for a pilot project to provide resources to rural schools in Idaho. The Idaho Legislature has spiked similar proposals for the past two years.
"It gained more support this year," Ybarra said. "Idaho is a rural state, we are a close-knit community and we need to get resources into rural schools. I believe this pilot project is part of that goal."