After her budget presentations to lawmakers today, state schools Superintendent Sherri Ybarra said, “The feeling was good.” She wasn’t surprised she didn’t get more questions on her detailed school budget presentation, she said, because, “We do have a good working relationship – I don’t create the budget in a vacuum.” She added, “I like to say there are no surprises, because everyone knew what was coming.” Overall, she said, “It was a joy this morning.”
JFAC Co-Chair Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said, “I think she did a very professional job, very thorough. She knew her budget, and she knows her staff and when to defer – and those are all good qualities to have.
Both Keough and Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, a key sponsor of the public school budget, said after the hearing that they believe Ybarra’s request for a $14 million-plus increase in discretionary funds for school districts, with half of that tabbed to cover increased health insurance costs, deserves more attention that Gov. Butch Otter gave it in his budget, which provided no funds for that.
“The school districts are really hampered if they don’t have the flexibility that provides,” Keough said. “Our locally elected school boards need that flexibility.”
Horman said, “I think it’s important that we fund health insurance for our teachers, as well as operational expenses that we know our districts and charters will experience.” Horman said in her work on a special committee that’s working to revamp the state’s school funding formula, she’s heard from lots of educators and local education officials around the state, and “that comes in again as a top priority.”
Horman said she met with her local school superintendents just yesterday, and health insurance costs were a big concern for them. Funding adequate health insurance for teachers, she said, is “important for recruiting and training teachers. We’ll be definitely considering how we can address that.”
She added, “It’s a pretty straightforward budget this year – we had a good road map from the K-12 (task force) recommendations. I think that’s what we’re seeing here.”
Horman said, “I think it’s important that we also ask questions about the effectiveness of our investments.” Toward that end, she said, she’s also looking into how the public school appropriation bill for next year can include some evaluation requirements, to see how well the state’s investments into school improvements are working. “We wouldn’t want to evaluate prematurely,” she noted. “When we get enough longitudinal data to fairly ask questions, it’s appropriate.”