Otter: Cost a ‘limiting factor’ in K-12 reform

Gov. Butch Otter is expecting a batch of ideas from his education reform task force. But he isn’t necessarily expecting a price tag attached.

“I fully expect them to say: ‘Here’s the things that we need’ and not make an assessment about the cost,” Otter said Wednesday. “So then we’re going to have to assess those things they want to do and those things that they need. I don’t expect them to try to figure out a budget for that. That’s my job and the legislative leadership’s job in order to figure that out.”

Friday is decision day for the task force. The 31-member group will reconvene for the first time in three months — to look over ideas developed in small groups, and figure out what to recommend to Otter.

On Wednesday, Otter said cost is “obviously going to be the limiting factor” in education reform. And with some preliminary ideas and cost estimates trickling out, some proposals might face tough sledding:

Teacher pay: A career ladder plan would boost starting teacher pay from $31,000 to $40,000. Salaries for veteran teachers could increase to $50,000 to $60,000. The plan could cost $200 million to $250 million over five years, according to Jason Hancock, the state Department of Education’s deputy chief of staff.

In other words, the first year of a career ladder would swallow up the $34 million Otter and the 2013 Legislature essentially set aside for task force proposals. The 2013-14 K-12 budget included about $34 million in one-time money for technology and merit pay, a budget placeholder that could free up money for task force initiatives in 2014-15 and beyond.

School operations: Another proposal would restore school budgets to their 2008-09 levels, at a five-year cost of $82.5 million. Schools have seen a sharp drop in “discretionary spending,” which helps pay for daily operations. Discretionary spending peaked at $25,696 per classroom in 2008-09; it now totals $20,000 per classroom.

For now, the draft recommendations aren’t yet public. The State Board of Education plans to publish them online before Friday’s meeting, but they had not been posted Wednesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, it’s unclear how any of the proposals will go over with the entire task force.

Since May, the far-ranging group of education stakeholders, business representatives and elected officials has been split up into three subcommittees. The subcommittees’ collective summer assignment was to brainstorm ideas for the group’s review.

That review will take place Friday — nearly eight months after Otter named his task force in the wake of the defeat of Propositions 1, 2 and 3.

Friday’s task force meeting will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Boise State University’s student union building, in the Hatch Ballroom.

Idaho Education News’ Clark Corbin contributed to this report. 

Coming Friday: Follow Idaho Education News for complete coverage and a live blog from Friday’s task force meeting, and follow @idahoednews for live tweets.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday