In addition to highlighting the teacher career ladder as her top request in the public school budget for next year, state schools Superintendent Sherri Ybarra is highlighting requests for anti-bullying programs under the Safe & Drug-Free Schools program; additional funding for advanced opportunities for students; investments into mastery-based learning; and additional focus on literacy proficiency for young students, among others.
Ybarra also pitched her proposal for increases in so-called discretionary funds to school districts – funds that local districts can decide how to spend, based on local needs, which can cover anything from electricity to books. Her proposal has two parts: A 3.1 percent increase, or $7.1 million, in discretionary funds to school districts; plus an additional $7.2 million increase in discretionary funds targeted to school districts’ increases in health insurance costs. Gov. Butch Otter hasn’t recommended funding for either item, saying he wants to wait until a revamp of the state’s distribution formula for school funding is completed in another year before considering any increase in discretionary funding to districts.
After completing her detailed presentation, Ybarra told lawmakers with a smile, “We’ve been swimming in a sea of numbers,” and offered to answer any questions. The first question, from Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, sought details about a proposed increase in services to students with limited English proficiency. Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, asked about utilizing social workers to serve students who “come to the classroom with complex needs,” and prefaced her question with this remark: “What a great presentation.” Senate Education Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, asked whether instruction in technology is keeping up with increases in technological equipment. Ybarra, in addition to answering, brought up members of her staff to provide detailed answers to the lawmakers' questions.
Other lawmakers asking questions included Rep. Steve Miller, R-Fairfield; and Sens. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland, and Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene. When the questions ended, Ybarra said thanked the committee “for really paying attention and for your support.” She noted that her staff is available to answer any additional questions. “I appreciate your support, and am looking forward to another great year,” Ybarra said.
Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, JFAC co-chair, told Ybarra, “We appreciate you being here and walking us through your budget, and appreciate your leadership in working with our kids, who are our future.” With that, JFAC took a 15-minute break, after which it’ll hear from Ybarra on her budget request for the office of the state superintendent; and from Brian Darcy, administrator of Idaho Educational Services for the Deaf and Blind.