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Thursday, December 12, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Idaho lawmakers call for boost to school funding

Lawmakers on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee work through the public school budget on Monday morning; it makes up 48 percent of Idaho’s state general fund budget. (Betsy Z. Russell)
Lawmakers on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee work through the public school budget on Monday morning; it makes up 48 percent of Idaho’s state general fund budget. (Betsy Z. Russell)

BOISE – Idaho budget writers set a public school budget Monday that reflects a 6.8 percent increase in state funds for next year, and several items still pending could push that up to 7.4 percent or more.

State schools Superintendent Sherri Ybarra pronounced herself “very happy” with the boost, though she requested a 7.6 percent increase and Gov. Butch Otter had recommended 7.9 percent.

“These folks have worked really hard,” she said, and “included us in the process. I’m very excited about where we’re at right now. … These folks are very focused on education this year.”

The $1.6 billion budget, set on a series of mostly unanimous votes in the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on Monday morning, fully funds the next phase of the “career ladder” to improve pay for Idaho teachers, at $41.5 million. It also restores discretionary funds per classroom for school districts back to 2009 levels for the first time since the economic downturn, at a cost of $27.3 million next year.

Ybarra said those two items were top priorities for her and for school districts across the state.

Democrats on the joint budget committee led an unsuccessful move to boost the per-classroom district funds by an additional $5 million. That would have brought them up to $26,032 per classroom next year; the 2009 level was $25,696. After years of budget cuts, the current level is $23,868.

The school budget set Monday leaves several major pieces still to be decided, including Otter’s proposed $10.7 million early literacy initiative, which has passed the House and awaits action in the Senate.

Members of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee and GOP legislative leaders have said they’re crafting a budget that in the end will reflect a 7.4 percent increase, matching last year’s percentage increase.

“I think each one of us has things we might have done a little bit differently, but it’s sounding like there’s consensus about that amount this year,” said Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, the committee’s co-chairwoman.

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