Ybarra applauds public school budget, focus on education

2016 Idaho Legislature

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra said Idaho legislators are proving education is their top priority this session.

During an interview Monday in her Boise office, Ybarra praised the public school budget introduced last week. She also applauded the House and Senate education committees and congratulated educators and education groups from the Idaho Education Association, to the Idaho School Boards Association and Idaho Association of School Administrators for working collaboratively to improve schools.Sherri Ybarra 1

“I think all we’ve all had a really great session,” Ybarra said. “I can’t ask for a better one, and I couldn’t ask for more support than I’ve had.”

Gov. Butch Otter used his Jan. 11 State of the State address to call for increasing education spending by 7.9 percent. Last week, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee introduced a 2016-17 school budget that calls for a 6.8 percent funding increase.

JFAC fully funded the two items teachers and education groups list as their top priorities, Ybarra said Monday.

The proposed budget would provide a second straight year of raises for teachers under the 2015 career ladder salary law. It would also devote $27.3 million to reversing recession-era cuts to district discretionary funding, a pool of money sometimes referred to as operations funding. The budget would bring per-classroom spending levels to $25,696 — the high point reached in 2008-09, before the global recession and shrinking state revenues triggered a series of steep budget cuts.

“I’m so excited about the budget,” Ybarra said. “It shows everybody knows education is the priority in Idaho.”

Even though lawmakers are satisfying two big requests on many educators’ wish lists, not everybody is getting everything they asked for — at least not yet.

As written, the proposed budget increases education spending by 6.8 percent — less than Otter and Ybarra recommended and less than the 7.4 percent boost lawmakers approved last year.

Lawmakers are holding off on addressing a proposal designed to improve the literacy skills of nearly 37,000 struggling readers in grades K-3. Lawmakers won’t provide state funding for literacy unless the related policy bill clears the Senate (it’s scheduled to receive a hearing later Tuesday).

Ybarra said there is general support for the idea, but questions remain over how to handle reading interventions and what constitutes proper funding. Before the session, Otter called for investing $10.7 million in literacy reforms and Ybarra recommended $5 million.

“Although we are nearing the end (of the legislative session), it’s not over yet,” Ybarra said. “I don’t think anybody in Idaho questions the fact we do need to put some money into closing the (reading skills) gap by third grade.”

Lawmakers said they need more details about Ybarra’s $300,000 rural school center proposal. Ybarra continues to work with legislators and state officials, but won’t give up if the proposal does not receive funding this year.

“If it doesn’t get through this year, I want to show my support for rural schools so we are going to continue that great work,” Ybarra said.