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Tuesday, October 22, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Eye On Boise

Ybarra makes pitch for rural schools network; Otter again rejects the idea…

In state schools Superintendent Sherri Ybarra’s budget request for her office next year, she’s requesting a 6 percent increase in state funding, while Gov. Butch Otter is recommending just a 3.6 percent increase. Otter is going along with Ybarra’s request to cover costs for the growing number of students taking state assessment tests, but he rejected her other requests, including her long-sought rural education support network.

Ybarra said all her requests are “aimed at supporting schools and students to achieve,” and said the first one, on the rural network, “is near and dear to my heart.”

She’s requesting $300,000 to hire a full-time contract position, with the first network to link rural North Idaho districts. “This ask gives great respect to the culture of our state,” Ybarra said, noting that 37.8 percent of Idaho’s students are in rural school districts. “There are thousands of children who will positively benefit from these rural networks,” she said. They’re aimed at collaboration and aid to the districts on their self-identified top priorities, from compliance with special education service requirements to retaining high-quality educators.

“As you may know, most of our rural schools are high-poverty,” Ybarra told lawmakers. Other functions the network would address include suicide prevention, regional crisis response training, student assistance programs, technology training, and e-rate assistance services. “The core vision is about achieving economies of scale for districts,” she said, and “achieving educational equity for all students.”

Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, asked why Otter didn’t recommend funding Ybarra’s request. “I’m especially concerned, because this helps those rural schools in my part of the state get off to a good start with their students,” she said. “If we’re going to reach our 60 percent goal, we have to start strong with these kids.”

Gideon Tolman, budget analyst in Otter’s Division of Financial Management, said, “The governor does support small schools working together, but does not recommend a state-level, formalized network to facilitate that collaboration. This request, this has been requested for a couple of years and wasn’t recommended or appropriated. And the governor would like to direct those general funds to other places.”

Ybarra said, “I want to be transparent and review what the network is not. It’s not another layer of government or an expansion of the State Department of Education. … It’s not another brick-and-mortar building. … It does not consolidate districts.” Ybarra said instead, the network could “help districts bring services to students where they are in their own local community.” She added, “I sit on the Workforce Development Council; they’re very interested in this piece and connecting the dots.”

The other requests in the superintendent’s office budget that didn’t get the governor’s nod were for $25,000 to reflect the increased administrative burden of the fast-growing advanced opportunities program, through which thousands of high school students are now taking college courses; and $75,000 to cover costs for a committee that’s required to meet annually to review test questions for state assessments, and whose current budget isn’t covering the full costs. 

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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