State of the State address: Otter says Idaho is resurgent

Gov. Butch Otter emphasized the connection between Idaho’s education system and work force during an optimistic State of the State address Monday at the Statehouse.

During the 31-minute speech, Otter outlined a wide-ranging plan for continued investment in public schools and teachers.

He also took stock of the state’s financial standing and his own legacy, entering his 11th year as governor.

Finances are secure.

Revenues are beating expectations.

Wages are rising and more people are working than at any time in Idaho’s history, Otter reported.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it is my high honor and privilege to report to you today that the state of Idaho is resurgent, and in fact gaining a national reputation among states for our stability and our strength,” Otter said.

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Otter called education his top priority, and outlined a budget to increase public school spending by 6.4 percent in 2017-18. In September, Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra called for a 6.7 percent increase in school funding.

Otter built his budget request around continued implementation of the recommendations issued by the Task Force for Improving Education.

“My budget recommendations are about more than fulfilling shared commitments and implementing task force recommendations,” Otter said. “Ultimately, my education funding proposals are about doing the right thing for the next generation of Idahoans, and laying a foundation for their own refinements and adjustments to keep pace with a dynamic global marketplace.”

Overall, Otter called for a 5.87 percent overall general funding spending increase compared to the current budget year. His budget outlined nearly $3.5 billion in state spending.

Budget highlights include:

  • $58 million in new spending for teacher raises under the career ladder salary law.
  • Funding for 3 percent in raises for school employees not covered under the career ladder.
  • $15 million in new funding to offset increased health insurance costs. This funding is in lieu of additional discretionary funding for school districts.
  • $10 million in new funding for school technology.
  • $6 million in new funding for professional development training for teachers.
  • $5 million in new funding for college and career counseling.
  • $2.5 million in new funding for the State Board of Education to provide training for school administrators on teacher evaluations.
  • $2.5 million in funding for a voluntary program called Principals Pursuing Excellence to provide support for administrators in low-performing schools.
  • $2 million for a new Idaho Reading Indicator assessment test.
  • $2.1 million in one-time funding for schools to expand wireless Internet infrastructure.
  • $1 million in additional funding for increased participation in advanced opportunities programs.

Otter also called for boosting the State Board of Education’s budget by 175 percent — partially through moving around spending programs. In contrast, Otter called for increasing Ybarra’s office budget by 5.7 percent.

Otter also addressed the teacher evaluations controversy, calling for investing $2.5 million in training for school administrators on the evaluations procedure.

“As we work to improve the competitiveness of Idaho’s teacher pay, it’s critical that we have a solid basis for rewarding excellence,” Otter said. “Looking beyond the recent challenges that we’ve experienced with teacher evaluations, this training will help ensure school administrators can professionally, thoroughly and meaningfully assess teacher effectiveness and help guide their professional growth.”

After the speech, Otter described evaluations as the accountability that goes along with raises.

“It was anticipated by now we would have that accountability part done,” Otter said. “I would tell you that we will definitely not go another year without that accountability part in place.”

Although their budgets’ bottom lines were slightly different, Otter and Ybarra were in agreement on their main priorities. Both backed the $58 million increase for the career ladder.

“Along with the $75 million that we have invested in that effort during the past two years, this new and largest tranche will keep us on track to reaching our five-year funding goal for attracting and retaining more of the best and brightest educators available,” Otter said.

After the speech, Ybarra praised Otter for making education his No. 1 priority.

“I’m excited,” Ybarra said. “You know, he has made public education his priority with his five-year plan and he has come through with all those promises. It shows we are all on the same page for the session.”

Even so, there were differences between Otter’s and Ybarra’s spending plans.

Ybarra called for increasing funding for technology by $8 million, while Otter called for a $10 million bump.

Ybarra called for investing $5.9 million in teacher training and replacing the state’s kindergarten through third-grade reading test. She also called for investing $2 million more in literacy proficiency. Otter called for spending $2 million to replace the reading test, while keeping the rest of the literacy budget unchanged.

Although Ybarra released her preliminary budget proposal on Sept. 1, she won’t make her formal budget presentation to the Legislature until later this month.

In their response, legislative Democrats praised Otter for prioritizing education.

“Today’s State of the State made clear to us Gov. Otter had heard how important education is to the state of Idaho,” said House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise.

Meanwhile, Erpelding also criticized Otter for “failing to address early childhood education in any meaningful way.”

Otter honors Barbara Morgan

Otter also used the State of the State address to present teacher and retired astronaut Barbara Morgan with the first Idaho Medal of Achievement.

Barbara Morgan1
Barbara Morgan, Idaho’s teacher in space, received the first Idaho Medal of Achievement on Monday.

The award was given for “exceptional meritorious and inspirational service.”

Morgan, a former McCall-Donnelly teacher, participated in NASA’s Teacher In Space program.

Morgan served as a backup to Christa McAuliffe and trained with the crew of the ill-fated Space Shuttle Challenger.

Years later, NASA named Morgan a mission specialist, and she completed a mission to the International Space Station in 2007.

Otter lauded Morgan for “broadening the horizon of students all over Idaho.”

Morgan is a “pioneering educator who brought the dream of space flight to her students from a classroom high above the clouds,” Otter said.

 

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