Ybarra asks for school funding increase to pay for full-day kindergarten

State superintendent Sherri Ybarra is asking for a 8.5% increase in state tax dollars for public schools next year, including money for full-day kindergarten and teacher salaries.

The $2.22 billion state general fund request would add $82.8 million to the teacher salary career ladder, and increase operational funding for Idaho districts and charters by 5.3% to offset the rising cost of health insurance and cover inflationary increases, the State Department of Education said in a news release Wednesday.

Wednesday was the deadline for state agencies to turn in budget requests for the 2022-23 budget year, which begins July 1 and runs through June 30, 2023. Gov. Brad Little will introduce his budget recommendations next year, and the Legislature will finalize the budget during the 2022 session.

Last year, the state put more than $2 billion of general fund dollars into K-12 for the first time in state history.

Ybarra’s 2022-23 proposal would set aside $39.3 million to provide optional full-day kindergarten for students who test below grade level in reading readiness, which is expected to be about 66% of kindergarten students, the news release said. Her request also includes a $100,000 line item for screening assessments to identify youngsters that would benefit the most from full-day kinder.

Idaho currently funds only a half day of kindergarten, with districts and charters picking up the difference through a piecemeal funding approach. According to Idaho Education News research from April, more than 95 percent of Idaho’s 21,140 kindergartners attend districts that offer some access to full-day programs. The State Board of Education also endorses funding for full-day kindergarten.

“We want to provide our children with the best start possible as they enter public school for the first time, and offering the option of full-day learning for students who need more support will help ensure their future success in school,” Ybarra said in a news release. “This proposal also follows through on the governor’s task force recommendation to prioritize full-day kindergarten funding for students with the greatest need.”

Full-day kindergarten was a hot topic during the 2021 session, but a bill to fund the extension died following a COVID-caused legislative recess.

The 8.5% increase marks a big jump from last year’s August budget proposal, of a “no-frills” increase of 1.5%. But this year’s request comes as the state sits on a record-setting surplus of $1.4 billion.

“Given the strength of Idaho’s economy, the superintendent is confident that the Legislature will support her budget request,” an SDE spokeswoman said. The department says that only 3.5% of the increase is “new money,” since over $100 million of the proposed budget increase is going toward programs already written into Idaho statute.

Ybarra is asking for a 6% increase in base salary funding for school support staff and an increase of 7.8% for teacher growth on the salary career ladder, including an additional step for veteran teachers.

The $2.2 billion in state general funds — collected from sales and income taxes — represents the bulk of Ybarra’s overall $3.2 billion request. The request also includes $872 million in federal funds — including $456 million from the American Rescue Plan Act, a coronavirus stimulus law passed earlier this year.

The budget also incorporates more than $127 million from various other state funds, including $61.5 million from state endowments and $31.1 million in lottery proceeds.

Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert contributed to this report.

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