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Idaho schools chief switches up rural school pitch

UPDATED: Fri., Sept. 7, 2018, 4:50 p.m.

BOISE – Idaho’s top schools chief will no longer ask for money to create a rural schools network after lawmakers rejected the proposal nearly every year the Republican leader has been in office.

Instead, Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra is gearing up to make a similar but different pitch as she prepares for the upcoming 2019 legislative session while at the same time running for re-election.

Ybarra’s office confirmed Friday that the schools chief would no longer pursue the rural schools network.

“We must begin to better support our rural districts with their most critical needs, and recruiting and keeping teachers is the best place to start,” Ybarra said in a statement earlier this week when her fiscal year 2020 budget was first released.

According to Ybarra’s budget proposal for the next fiscal year, nearly $1 million has been earmarked to implement three new programs designed to address Idaho’s critical teacher shortages in rural areas.

The most expensive item is $500,000 to pay for the last 40 credits of course work for teachers who commit to working in rural areas for three years following graduation. The program would require funding matches from the state Board of Education and partnering school districts, and a maximum of 25 students would be allowed to participate.

The second program is a $300,000 proposed program to create rural teacher fellowships for up to 50 students enrolled in an Idaho public postsecondary teacher preparation program. Students would be given $10,000 to help cover the costs of the preparation program as long as they commit to spending two years in a rural school district. Participating universities would be required to match some of the costs.

Finally, an $180,000 program would create retention bonuses for rural educators.

All three, if approved, would have a five-year deadline unless lawmakers choose to extend the programs.

Ybarra had previously asked the Idaho Legislature to form a $300,000 pilot project in which rural schools would collaborate and share resources. However, lawmakers repeatedly voted against the proposal because some said it would create an unnecessary layer of government bureaucracy.

The bill has never made it out of both legislative chambers, with the statehouse’s top education budget writers often voicing their concerns with its language.

Overall, Ybarra is asking for a 6.8 percent budget increase from this fiscal year – which ends in June – proposing to bring the total public schools budget to $2.28 billion.

Ybarra is running against Democratic challenger Cindy Wilson in the November election.


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