Ybarra budget request includes salary boost for veteran teachers

Teacher pay raises are a centerpiece of Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra’s 2020-21 budget request.

Ybarra is requesting $40 million to boost veteran teacher salaries — an extension of the five-year, $250 million “career ladder” salary plan.

“(The career ladder) has come a long way toward rewarding Idaho educators for their efforts and skill, especially in attracting new, early-career educators,” Ybarra said in a news release. “But we still need to do more for our experienced teachers, recognizing their value and encouraging them to stay in Idaho schools despite higher pay in other states.”

Ybarra’s budget request, released late Tuesday afternoon, comes as a gubernatorial task force is taking a second look at veteran teacher salaries. Task force members are talking about building out the career ladder — and supporting teacher salaries of up to $60,000.

Then-Gov. Butch Otter’s K-12 task force recommended the $60,000 maximum salary in 2013. Legislators never signed on, instead adopting a career ladder that maxed out at $50,000 and invested mostly in pay raises for newer teachers. Ybarra is a member of the new K-12 task force, convened this spring by Gov. Brad Little.

All told, Ybarra is seeking nearly $2 billion for the budget year beginning July 1.

That total includes about $100.8 million in new spending, a 5.3 percent increase.

Legislators have increased K-12 spending by at least $100 million every year for the past five years.

Ybarra proposes several other budget increases, but recommends holding the line in other areas:

Early literacy. She proposes $26.1 million for extra help for kindergarten through third-grade students. That’s unchanged from this year’s budget. But this year, lawmakers used $3.1 million in one-time money to flesh out the literacy budget. Ybarra wants to use ongoing funding instead of one-time funding.

Mastery-based learning. Ybarra has requested $1.9 million, a $500,000 increase. The shift to mastery — and moving students through the K-12 system based on development, rather than seat time — is a priority for Ybarra. This year, she convinced lawmakers to lift the cap on mastery “pilot schools,” but lawmakers froze the budget.

Social-emotional learning. Ybarra wants $1 million to develop and launch training, so educators can better respond to students’ emotional needs. “Social-emotional learning is vital to helping children develop the self-awareness, problem-solving and impulse control needed to overcome challenges and thrive in school, work and community life,” Ybarra said. “We aim to develop strong, flexible training to address those needs.”

Advanced opportunities. Ybarra is requesting $20 million for this growing program, which allows high school students to earn college credits for free. This would be a $2 million increase.

Classroom technology. Ybarra has proposed $36.5 million, unchanged from this year.

Master educator premiums. Ybarra has proposed $7.2 million for bonuses for high-performing veteran teachers, also unchanged from this year. The state is rolling out the $4,000-a-year premium program this fall, and money could be awarded later this month.

Absent from this year’s request is a school safety plan. A year ago, Ybarra sought $19.1 million to launch her Keep Idaho Students Safe program, but the proposal went nowhere.

Agency budget requests were due to the governor’s Division of Financial Management at 5 p.m. Friday. Ybarra submitted the budget request at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, spokeswoman Kris Rodine said. Ybarra’s office didn’t unveil her proposal until after business hours Tuesday, issuing a news release at 5:10 p.m.

The budget request could be subject to change. Ybarra says she might submit a revised budget to reflect recommendations from Little’s task force, which are due this fall.

Little will unveil his 2020-21 budget proposal in January. Later in January, Ybarra will go before the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee to outline her spending plan.

Reactions

Ybarra said she spelled out her plans in an Aug. 14 meeting with representatives of the state’s education groups. One education group was quick to praise the proposal.

“Sherri Ybarra’s 2021 budget looks great,” said Rob Winslow, executive director of the Idaho Association of School Administrators. “I appreciate her request to increase salaries for teachers, classified and administrators. Idaho struggles to find and keep good educators and this budget request provides school districts with increases to their local salary schedules.”

Winslow also praised the request for social-emotional training.

Quinn Perry of the Idaho School Boards Association also lauded Ybarra’s proposal, calling it a “bold ask.” The $40 million for teacher pay would help districts and charters deal with retention issues, Perry said, while social-emotional training is one way to address school safety and help students who are at risk.

“We have to look at public schools as bigger than where (kids) go to learn,” said Perry, the ISBA’s policy and government affairs director.

But not everyone supported this proposal. “Teachers should teach and leave the emotional development where it belongs — with Idaho’s engaged parents,” said Dustin Hurst, a spokesman for the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a conservative lobbying group. Hurst also panned Ybarra’s teacher salary proposal.

Ybarra’s budget sticks to some well-established ideas, said Terry Ryan, the CEO of Bluum, a Boise nonprofit supporting school choice. But Ryan, a member of Little’s task force, questions whether the state will again be able to increase the K-12 budget by $100 million.

“This might be the year that, the reality is, the revenues are not going to allow it,” he said.

The Idaho Education Association said it hasn’t had time to study the budget proposal. Ybarra says IEA representatives attended her Aug. 14 briefing.

Disclaimer: Bluum and Idaho Education News are funded through grants from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation.

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