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Ybarra unclear on budget figures in public instruction presentation to legislators

BOISE – Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra wants local school officials to decide how money should be spent in the classroom.

During her first budget presentation to the Legislature on Thursday morning, Ybarra said she hadn’t yet determined how funds for some of her biggest policy initiatives would be spent. Instead, Ybarra said, she wanted to determine those details once she saw how much money the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee budgets for each line item.

Ybarra is asking for $87.3 million more for public schools, a 6.4 percent increase over last year’s $1.7 billion total. Her proposal also shifts more than $18.7 million to operations, much of that money coming from professional development programs for teachers and other school officials.

That would bring the total amount of discretionary spending for operations allotted to local school districts and charter schools to about $28 million. Local authorities would be able to spend that money on textbooks, classroom supplies, professional development programs or whatever else they need most, Ybarra said.

“I am submitting to you a budget that represents my vision for college and career readiness in Idaho education, and indicates the direction I intend to take this department over the next four years,” she told the committee. “I think we all agree that local control is how we can best serve Idaho’s children.”

She also called for a statutory limit on class sizes in kindergarten through third grade. However, Ybarra’s proposal doesn’t include any funding for that idea.

“That is a wish list item,” she told reporters Thursday afternoon, saying she’d like to set a class-size limit around 15 to 20 students for those lower grades.

Ybarra told lawmakers she wants a “pilot project” approach to implementing a teacher career ladder pay plan, with nine school districts and one charter school to start it next year. Gov. Butch Otter and the state Board of Education have called for starting the first phase of the career ladder statewide next year. Still, Ybarra said, “I am asking for $25 million towards the career ladder – stay tuned for the details,” she said.

Lawmakers immediately asked what she’d do with that $25 million – is it just for those 10 schools next year? Ybarra said she wanted to phase the career ladder in over four years.

“The details are still being worked out on that, but it can look many different ways,” she said. “What I would like to do is build the policy around the funding. So with that, anything extra that we get could affect the way that that looks, the pilot program.”

Lawmakers were a bit surprised.

“I’m a little bit nervous about the budget as you talked about it,” said Sen. Roy Lacey, D-Pocatello. “Ordinarily, we have an idea of what is going to happen. So are you waiting on legislation, are you waiting on information to get us some good solid figures?”

Ybarra responded, “I’m not sure I understand what you’re asking me. Are you asking about a particular program?”

Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said, “In past presentations sometimes there’s a little more detail as to what the budget will entail.” He said this year, “we’re sort of in this awkward position” of awaiting possible legislation on the career ladder plan from the state Board of Education.


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