Otter outlines education spending plan

Gov. Butch Otter used Monday’s State of the State address to call for spending $35 million to begin erasing recession-era budget cuts absorbed by school districts.

Otter State of State folo
Gov. Butch Otter meets with reporters immediately following Monday’s State of the State address.

Overall, he recommended $37.4 million in new spending for K-12, a nearly 2.9 percent increase over this year’s funding level.

Otter, who kicked off the 2014 session with his 38-minute speech, proposed leaving teacher wages flat and declined to set aside any money to implement a career ladder pay system that his education task force called for in August.

Otter referenced a “multi-year” plan for education and took great care to say the landscape is changing. Thanks to the task force’s work, he said, the idea of K-12 education is becoming obsolete and being replaced by a more all-encompassing philosophy.

“Now, I want that to sink in just for a moment: K-through-career,” Otter said. “It is a straightforward but profound way of describing our goals for building out and maintaining a continuum of education and training opportunities.”

Budget highlights include:

  • Devoting $54.7 million to incorporating several task force recommendations.
  • Spending $35 million to begin what could be a five-year process: restoring operational funding to at least 2008-09 levels. Before the Great Recession, this spending peaked at $25,696 per classroom unit. The $35 million proposal would increase per-classroom spending from $20,000 this year to $22,424 next year.
  • Setting aside $8.25 million in one-time money for professional development.
  • Earmarking $10.4 million in ongoing funding for technology devices.
  • Continuing to fund the controversial state contract to install WiFi in high schools and junior high schools.
  • Spending another $7.4 million to restore safe and drug free schools programs.
  • Allocating $1.1 million for the second phase of the Idaho Education Network’s broadband initiative for every public school and charter school.

Overall, Otter proposed a $1.34 billion budget for public schools. That represents a nearly 2.9 percent increase over the current budget, state staffers said during a Monday morning budget briefing.

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Otter did not provide any funding for a career ladder system – state staffers said they would review the Tiered Licensure Technical Advisory Committee’s ongoing work and consider funding the program in 2015. However, Otter did voice support for the task force recommendations.

“I believe that implementing them will substantially move our policies in the right direction for Idaho’s future,” Otter said. “That includes making a significant start on a multi-year effort to restore funding to public schools that we withheld during the prolonged economic downturn.”

BrentHill88
Sen. Brent Hill

During his speech, Otter said he sought to craft a conservative budget that intentionally grows government spending and programs at a slower rate than the economic recovery.

Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said Otter was right to make education the top priority.

“I was very pleased with the emphasis he placed on education,” Hill said. “He talked about the possibility of additional tax cuts and stuff, but he put the funding of education ahead of that, very clearly ahead of that.”

Rep. Linden Bateman, an Idaho Falls Republican who sits on the House Education Committee, echoed Otter’s call to erase the education budget cuts.

“We need to find the funding that was lost during the economic downturn, and he made some effort to move in that direction,” Bateman said.  “We desperately need greater funding for public schools.”

That sentiment was echoed by Rep. Jeff Thompson, an Idaho Falls Republican who carried the public school budget in the House each of the past two years.

“The governor was right on,” Thompson said. “We need to restore finding back to where it was in the 2009 session.”

Otter’s budget differed from Luna’s in several ways. Luna proposed a 5.4 percent increase, and $42 million for the career ladder system – although he has backed away from fully implementing the teacher pay system.

Otter stressed that his goals are part of a multi-year plan, and specific numbers and goals may be tweaked in the coming years.

“It is my preference that we write our fiscal 2015 investment in ink and the out-year investment plans in pencil so that we can better assess the local impacts of that funding,” Otter said.

On Tuesday, the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee will begin drilling down into Otter’s request. In the coming weeks, budget-writers will stage daily budget hearings as they prepare to set the FY2015 state budget.

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