JFAC calls for 7.4 percent school funding increase

Legislative budget writers Friday voted to increase K-12 spending by 7.4 percent and boost teacher salaries by $33.5 million next year.

Under the 2015-16 proposal, the state would increase school funding by $101.2 million next year and fully fund the first year of the teacher salary career ladder.

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Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls

The overall increase is in line with Gov. Butch Otter’s 7.4 percent recommendation, but includes several key differences — and accounts for a major increase in student enrollment. Under the plan, the state would spend nearly $1.48 billion on public schools, accounting for about 48 percent of general fund spending.

Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, spent the past several weeks helping write the budget, which she described as an example of the Legislature “stepping up” to make a commitment to schools.

“This is a historic investment in Idaho education,” she said. “Clearly it is a budget that puts students and teachers at the front of line in funding in Idaho.”

Horman said it has been more than a decade since schools received this kind of funding boost.

Highlights include:

  • Increasing state spending for teacher salaries by $33.5 million, covering  the launch of the five-year career ladder plan adopted by the Senate Thursday.
  • Earmarking $16.1 million for the teacher leadership premium financial incentives approved by the 2014 Legislature.
  • Raising minimum teacher salaries from $31,750 to $32,700.
  • Boosting operations funding for districts – often called discretionary spending – by 6.5 percent next year. That corresponds to $33.2 million in ongoing funding.
  • Spending $13.2 million for teacher professional development training.
  • Devoting an additional $7.4 million to give 3 percent raises to school staffers who will not be on the career ladder next year, including administrators, IT managers, counselors, librarians and maintenance crews.
  • Increasing per-classroom operational spending from $22,401 to $23,868. Even with the increase, per classroom spending still lags behind the pre-recession level from 2008-09 ($25,696).
  • Budgeting $6 million to pay for advanced and college level courses that students take while attending high school.
  • Setting aside $2.1 million for school Wi-Fi.

Idaho Education Association President Penni Cyr praised budget-writers for funding the first year of the career ladder and continuing to restore recession-era cuts to districts operations funding streams.

“Overall, they have done a great job toward funding education in Idaho,” Cyr said. “It’s a good step in the right direction. Our goal has always been to attract and retain teachers, and we know that with being 49th in what is paid to teachers that we have to do something.”

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra also expressed strong support for the budget. Earlier this year, she proposed a slightly smaller 6.4 percent increase in school funding.

“We appreciate the open lines of communication with members of JFAC, and members of the Legislature,” Ybarra said in a written statement. “This demonstrates what can be accomplished for Idaho students when great ideas are coupled with an environment of collaboration.”

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee broke the budget into seven pieces. Committee members voted unanimously to pass six pieces of the budget.

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Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise

Two Democrats unsuccessfully pushed a competing plan to raise public school spending by 9.4 percent – mainly by doubling the increase in discretionary spending compared to the budget they ultimately approved. The Democrats’ plan would have restored operations funding to 2009 actual levels, but failed on a vote of 2-18.

“This is go big or go home,” Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, said. “There is more discretionary funding; this gives schools more opportunities to do what they want to do.”

The school budget had been put on hold for two weeks while lawmakers debated the closely watched career ladder.

The school budget still must pass the full House and Senate, and avoid Otter’s veto stamp, before it becomes effective. The school budget is perhaps the final major bill lawmakers need to pass before adjourning this year – depending on whether they move forward on one of several competing transportation funding initiatives.

Lawmakers will not be able to adjourn for the year until they pass the school budget. Some legislators are expected to push for adjournment late next week, but there is no set deadline or timetable.