JFAC puts $1 million into teacher evaluations training

Legislative budget-writers earmarked $1 million to try to shore up Idaho’s teacher evaluation system.

In essence, Friday’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee decision splits the difference between Gov. Butch Otter and state superintendent Sherri Ybarra, who have been at odds over the evaluations issue. Ybarra sought $300,000 for evaluations training; Otter requested a $2.5 million line item. But JFAC sided with Otter, voting to put the training money into the State Board of Education’s budget, and not Ybarra’s budget.

The State Board budget was among JFAC’s last pieces of unfinished business. The powerful House-Senate committee wrapped up the final state agency budgets on its to-do list — although the committee could reconvene later in the session to draw up last-minute spending bills.

Teacher evaluations represent an important piece in the education budget puzzle. Evaluation results are tied to the career ladder, Idaho’s five-year, $250 million plan to increase teacher pay — because evaluations will help determine whether teachers qualify for raises. Some lawmakers have been frustrated by inaccurate evaluations data gathered by Ybarra’s office. The 2016 Legislature shifted jurisdiction over evaluations away from Ybarra’s State Department of Education, and under the State Board’s umbrella.

On Friday, Otter spokesman Jon Hanian pointed out that that State Board is already required to audit a sampling of evaluations.

“The board has surveyed administrators on what training they believe is needed to ensure teacher evaluations support professional growth,” Hanian said. “This training will help not only existing administrators but will also provide information on potential enhancements to administrator preparation programs at our higher education institutions.”

Ybarra appeared comfortable with Friday’s decision — even though, in her Jan. 26 JFAC budget presentation, she twice asserted her office’s constitutional primacy over evaluations.

“We’ve heard over and over that districts were confused about the evaluation requirements, and this investment will help clarify what is expected in individual teacher evaluations by providing a checklist and training to support it,” Ybarra said in a statement. “What’s important is that clear direction is given to the districts from the state so evaluations — the cornerstone of accountability for the career ladder — aren’t questioned moving forward.”

The State Board’s budget still has to pass the House and the Senate before going to Otter’s desk.

(Here are more details on the evaluations budget vote from Betsy Russell of the Spokane Spokesman-Review.)

In other budget news from Friday:

  • JFAC zeroed out a separate Otter training request. He had sought $2.5 million to fund the “Principals Pursuing Excellence” program, targeting underperforming schools.
  • JFAC boosted the budget for career-technical education. Budget-writers approved a $65.4 million budget; Otter’s request came in at $64.2 million. A change in postsecondary programs accounts for much of the difference. JFAC wants to spend $1.9 million to help two- and four-year colleges expand career-technical programs, nearly doubling Otter’s request.
  • JFAC went along with Otter’s $4.5 million request for the STEM Action Center, with a catch. JFAC approved a one-time $2 million line item for the center’s computer science initiative. Otter wanted a permanent line item.

The committee could still meet before the end of the session to write “trailer” budget bills — funding projects that pass during the waning days of this year’s session. For example, JFAC hasn’t come up with any money for Ybarra’s $300,000 rural schools initiative, which narrowly passed the House Tuesday. If the Senate endorses the plan as well, JFAC could reconvene to consider funding.