Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra made good on two of her top three legislative priorities during the 75-day session that adjourned last month.
But she was less successful with 10 bills that her staff unveiled during an education conference last August.
Before the Legislature convened in January, Ybarra told Idaho Education News her top two priorities were erasing recession-era cuts to schools’ operational funding (sometimes referred to as discretionary funding) and launching a rural school center.
Ybarra’s third major priority was raising teacher pay.
In January, Ybarra advocated for all three priorities through her public school budget presentation, which was greeted with rave reviews and positive feedback from lawmakers.
“Two of the main focus areas was based on feedback from school districts and patrons and taxpayers in Idaho,” Ybarra said in an Idaho Ed News interview published Jan. 4. “The very first focus was that discretionary funding.”
Gov. Butch Otter also endorsed raising teacher pay and reversing cuts to districts’ operational funding.
By the time the Legislature adjourned March 25, Ybarra earned wins on operational spending and teacher raises. But her rural schools initiative failed.
Operational funding. Ybarra and Otter both called for increasing per-classroom spending to $25,696 — the high-water mark reached in 2008-09, before the Great Recession triggered a series of budget freezes and steep cuts. Lawmakers agreed, providing $27.3 million to increase per-classroom spending levels from their current rate of $23,868.
Ybarra had described this as her top priority, and the top priority for education groups and school districts across the state.
“I’m so excited about the budget,” Ybarra said after it was set. “It shows everybody knows education is the priority in Idaho.”
Teacher raises. Ybarra and Otter also asked lawmakers to fund the second year of the teacher career ladder. Lawmakers backed the request and devoted $41.5 million to increasing teacher pay. Ybarra and lawmakers also succeeded in their goal to bring additional public school employees onto the career ladder.
Transferring sick leave. Ybarra pushed House Bill 452, which allows educators and public education employees to transfer accrued, unused sick leave between similar state and education positions. The bill also removes a 90-day leave maximum for community college and public school employees.
It passed both legislative chambers comfortably and was signed into law March 24.
Mastery-based education. For two years, Ybarra has pushed to create a pilot program to allow up to 20 local school districts to test out a transition to mastery-based education.
Mastery, one of the 20 task force recommendations, would remove student seat-time requirements to create a system where students advance through school based on when they master subject matter. Ybarra and her team scored wins in this arena last year, and again this year through Senate Bill 1267, which Otter signed into law March 16.
Last week, Ybarra’s office said 19 local schools, charters, alternative schools and school districts applied to be part of the mastery pilot. The final list of participating schools will be announced later this month.
What was close
Ybarra’s budget request. In January, Ybarra requested a 7.5 percent boost in education funding. State budget analysts said her request actually totaled 7.6 percent, when funding for the Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind is factored in. Lawmakers ultimately approved a 7.4 percent increase that mostly aligned with Ybarra’s request. In one key difference, lawmakers omitted funding for Ybarra’s rural schools center.
What didn’t make it
Rural schools center. Ybarra’s $300,000 rural proposal was her most significant initiative that did not appear in Otter’s budget request.
Ybarra’s proposal passed the House 44-26 on March 23, but died in the Senate.
“I don’t think we’ve had sufficient time to even digest what it is,” Senate Education Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, said on March 24, hours before the Senate adjourned for the year.
Ybarra has pledged to keep working on the proposal and to bring it back next year.
Superintendent qualifications. Ybarra hoped to increase the qualifications needed to run for state superintendent.
She proposed requiring candidates to hold a valid Idaho administrator’s certificate and graduate from an accredited college or university, as determined by the State Board of Education.
But the idea never surfaced during the legislative session.
This was one of several proposals Ybarra and her team unveiled during an Idaho Association of School Administrators conference in August. Nine of those 10 proposals did not become laws, and only two of them were introduced in bill form.
For now, the current requirements remain intact. Candidates for superintendent must be at least 25 years old, hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university and must live in Idaho for two years preceding the election.
Leadership premiums. Ybarra pushed for an increase in teacher bonuses known as leadership premiums. Under Senate Bill 1266, the value of the bonuses would have increased from $850 to $900, costing slightly more than $1 million. That bill passed the Senate 26-8 but Ybarra and her team asked the House Education Committee to kill the bill.
Rep. Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, pushed a different bill that increased the minimum bonus to $900. The state did not put additional money into the program, and that means the state may wind up awarding fewer bonuses. Otter signed VanOrden’s bill into law April 5.
Educators’ tax credits. Ybarra hoped to provide nonrefundable tax credits of $500 to certified personnel working in public schools or charters. For personnel in rural districts or charters, that tax credit would come in at $1,000 next year. No bill surfaced.
Transportation contracts. Ybarra and the State Department of Education pushed for changes in bus transportation contracts. House Bill 460 never received a vote in the House Education Committee.
Additional legislation. During the IASA convention, Ybarra’s team unveiled a series of proposals concerning online course portals, data privacy and two transportation. None were formally introduced, and none received a hearing.
“All others remained in draft or RS form, and did not receive a print hearing,” State Department of Education spokesman Jeff Church wrote in an email to Idaho Ed News Thursday.
In the end, Ybarra appeared happy with the legislative session and the work she put in on her top priorities.
“I think we’ve all had a really great session,” Ybarra told Idaho Ed News on March 8. “I can’t ask for a better one, and I couldn’t ask for more support than I’ve had.”