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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Howard releases budget request

Taryn Brodwater Staff writer

Marilyn Howard is proposing a billion dollar budget for Idaho schools and she’s asking the state to pitch in $80 million more than it did this year to help get there.

The State Superintendent of Schools on Tuesday released her budget request for fiscal year 2006. The $1.09 billion budget includes increases for salaries, growth in enrollment, technology and the funds to deal with state and federal mandates for student performance.

She’s also asking legislators to restore funding for mentoring for new teachers. Though districts are required to provide mentoring programs, the $2 million budget was eliminated in 2003-04.

Howard is proposing a new College Readiness Initiative at a cost of $800,000. The initiative would pay for a college entrance exam for high school juniors and provide teachers with training to teach Advanced Placement courses.

Local educators on Tuesday said increases in the education budget are long overdue.

“The last four years, we’ve been operating with basically the same amount of money to take care of the same programs and more,” Post Falls Superintendent Jerry Keane said. “It’s definitely been a struggle over the last few years.”

The largest share of the increase, $33 million, would go toward salaries.

Howard’s salary proposal includes about $3.9 million for salary increases based on teacher education and experience. That’s encouraging to longtime educators like Coeur d’Alene’s Raina Bohanek.

“You top out and you just don’t make any more and that’s been difficult,” she said.

Howard requested an additional $6.2 million for district-level classroom support. That would provide schools with nearly $2,100 per classroom, up from about $1,600.

Some educators are concerned increased funding in one area could mean a loss in another.

Bohanek said she’s excited at the prospect of having state funding restored for teacher mentoring programs. But she said she knows money is tight in Idaho, and she’d “hate to see the state rob Peter to pay Paul.”

Steve Knox, technology coordinator for Kellogg schools, had similar concerns about the boost in technology funding. He wants to know where the money is coming from and, though he’d appreciate the increase, Knox said it’s still short of what districts really need.

Knox jokes about the “acronym soup” districts have to deal with: ISATs, ISIMS and PLATO.

The Idaho Standards Achievement Test, Idaho Student Information Management System and PLATO, a computer-based program for students struggling to meet state goals on the ISAT, all require multiple, networked computers and Internet connections, Knox said.

“We can’t do that with the funding we have now,” he said.

Howard’s budget includes $5.1 million to help Idaho students meet goals on the ISAT. By 2014, all students are expected to pass the statewide test. Schools that don’t meet goals for two years in a row face sanctions and must offer students the opportunity to transfer schools or take part in special tutoring and remediation programs.

State Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron said Howard’s proposal was excessive given the sluggishness of the economy.

“Realistically, we’ll be doing well if we get $35 million to $50 million in budgetary increases for public schools, and with that you’re pretty much holding everybody else flat,” Cameron said.

Last year, Howard requested a $40 million increase. Lawmakers approved $27 million.

“This budget request represents what it costs to meet requirements imposed by state law and to improve programs and services to students,” Howard said. “The reality is that school resources have been stretched to the limit during the past four years, and all that time the expectations of schools, from both the state and national levels have been growing.”