(UPDATED, 11:50 a.m., with added information about data mentioned by the governor.)
Gov. Brad Little touted his administration’s past investments in education during a luncheon on Wednesday, and promised to do more if reelected.
“We have a long way to go from where we are, but we’re making great progress,” said Little during a speech sponsored by the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce.
Little did not mention a recurring rumor in political circles: a possible special session to address a budget surplus in the $2 billion range. Instead, he recapped accomplishments from this winter’s session.
Little spoke about the historic 11% increase to the K-12 education budget that he proposed in January and was approved by the Legislature at the end of the session. He believes the budgets make teaching in the state more competitive.
The approved budgets allocated $104 million to the career ladder, the state’s teacher salary schedule. The budgets also included $75.5 million in one-time money to help schools buy into the state insurance plans and another $105 million in ongoing funds to strengthen employee benefits. Only about 20% of districts opted to join the state’s plan at this point.
Little also signed a bill in March adding over $46 million to the state’s literacy program in an effort to increase reading proficiency. Some districts will use the money to fund all-day kindergarten, but it can be put toward any program aimed at improving K-3 literacy rates. Little said the data he has received so far suggests the reading scores are on an upward trajectory. EdNews asked about this data and was told the governor was speaking anecdotally; official data on the early literacy investment is not yet available.
Little will run for governor in November against Stephen Heidt, the Democratic Party nominee. If reelected, Little said he plans to make additional investments in teacher salaries, and he said he has plans to support behavioral health throughout the state that he believes will help support educators.
“One of the most important things we can do is value educators,” said Little. “Those precious teachers are in those classrooms that are leading some of these challenging kids, they need our outward and inward support.”