Otter signs $1.7 billion K-12 budgets

Gov. Butch Otter signed the $1.7 billion K-12 budgets into law Tuesday — wrapping up the state’s work on the state’s largest budget.

The signings highlighted a busy Tuesday, as Otter gave final approval to more than 60 bills passed in the final days of the 2017 legislative session. He vetoed no bills Tuesday. Otter did not take action on the two bills that dominated the Legislature’s endgame: a bill repealing the grocery tax, and a $315 million-plus transportation and infrastructure bill.

Otter’s action on the K-12 budgets came as little surprise. During a news conference Monday, Otter gave the Legislature an “A” for its work on K-12 topics. The budgets also mirror Otter’s top spending priority for K-12: a $61.9 million increase in teacher pay, through the third year of the career ladder, Idaho’s five-year plan to boost educators’ salaries.

All told, the seven K-12 budget bills will increase public school spending by slightly more than $100 million, or 6.3 percent.

The budgets include $6.9 million for pay raises for administrators and classified staff outside the career ladder; an additional $5 million for classroom technology; an added $5 million for IT staffing; a $4.25 million increase in teacher professional development; a $2 million increase in college and career counseling; and a $10 million increase in “discretionary spending,” designed to help schools cover the spiraling cost of employee benefits.

Otter signed several other budget and policy bills addressing K-12:

  • A $14.2 million office budget for Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra. This budget includes $800,000 to expand broadband into grade schools, and $100,000 to replace the Idaho Reading Indicator.
  • A $5.6 million State Board of Education budget. This includes a $1 million line item to train school administrators who conduct teacher evaluations — a component of the career ladder rollout. Otter had requested a $2.5 million training line item.
  • A STEM Action Center budget that includes $4.5 million in state dollars and spending authority.
  • House Bill 279, a new law designed to streamline the charter school authorization process.
  • Senate Bill 1041, a law that would encourage legislative budget-writers to consider replacing money withdrawn from the Public Education Stabilization Fund, K-12’s rainy-day account.

Otter has until April 12 to sign remaining bills, allow them to become law without his signature — or veto them. Since the Legislature has adjourned for the year, lawmakers would not have the chance to override a veto.

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Otter has said he opposes repealing the grocery tax — a repeal that takes nearly $80 million out of the general fund that covers K-12 and other state budgets. On Monday, he declined to say whether he will veto the bill.

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