Public school financing was the central theme of a public hearing staged Friday morning at the Statehouse.
Four of the six people who testified before members of the budget-setting Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee advocated to increase school funding.
Resorting cuts to districts’ discretionary spending budgets (a pool of money sometimes referred to as operation funding), increasing teacher salaries and paying for professional development training for educators were the highlights.
Idaho Education Association President Penni Cyr was the first to testify, and called for the Legislature to pay teachers a professional wage competitive with surrounding states.
“There is very little incentive for young people to enter the profession now… they are pinching pennies and living paycheck-to-paycheck,” Cyr said.
Cyr also argued that the proposed five-year timeline to implement a full career ladder salary plan that would bump starting salaries to $40,000 a year did not address the problem quickly enough. She also called on lawmakers to continue reversing cuts to discretionary spending, but stressed funding for teacher pay and restoring recession-era cuts “is not an either/or proposition.”
Phil Homer of the Idaho Association of School Administrators echoed Cyr’s comments.
“We’re asking you to move as quickly as we possibly can to upgrade the minimum wage for our teacher staff and get to the $40,0000-level as quickly as we can,” Homer said.
Meridian Education Association President Kendra Wisenbaker told lawmakers “Our society pays for what we value. Is Idaho demonstrating it values education as much as it can?”
Idaho School Boards Association Executive Director Karen Echeverria used her testimony to advocate for preserving schools’ access to broadband Internet in the wake of the Idaho Education Network contract debacle. She also urged lawmakers not to cut into the school budget in order to compensate for the unplanned expense of reimbursing districts that pursue emergency contracts designed to keep them online.
“Ensure schools are not harmed by contract problems they did not create and the public school budget does not suffer from actions outside our control,” Echeverria said.
The meeting was billed as an opportunity for anyone in the state to advocate for funding priorities as JFAC prepares to shift into setting individual state agencies next week.
Only six people expressed an interest in testifying and the meeting adjourned early after just 30 minutes.
Other topics discussed included salaries for state employees and mental health services.
The public school budget is tentatively scheduled to be set March 12. Gov. Butch Otter is advocating a 7.4 percent increase in school funding, while new Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra backs a 6.4 percent boost.