Ybarra offers a sneak preview of her education budget priorities

State Superintendent Sherri Ybarra said demonstrating a return on investment will be the theme of her budget presentation later this week.

Ybarra is scheduled to present her K-12 public schools budget request at 8 a.m. Thursday in front of the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. Ybarra said she focused her first term in office on implementing the 2013 Governor’s Task Force for Improving Education recommendations, and she’s well aware the stakes are high.

“That’s the theme of the budget, return on investment, or the stockholders’ report,” Ybarra said Monday.

When she takes her turn in front of JFAC, Ybarra will ask lawmakers to increase K-12 funding by 6.8 percent. The major initiative driving her budget is a request to increase funding for educators’ salaries and benefits by $46 million through the career ladder salary law. Another big budget driver for Ybarra is a request to increase the state’s investment in classroom technology by $8.6 million next year.

“One of the main asks will be the career ladder ask,” Ybarra said. “Again that was the No. 1 priority of all the stakeholders when we met, that we show our support for that.”

Even though Ybarra makes her budget presentation Thursday, she has been preparing the 2018-19 school budget since last year. In July, Ybarra’s staff met with the leaders of several education groups, which unanimously called for continued investment in teacher salaries. During that meeting, education groups also asked Ybarra’s deputies to increase funding for discretionary spending, a funding source that is sometimes called operations funding. Ybarra heeded their call, requesting the state increase its discretionary funding investment by $19 million next year.

One of the biggest differences between Gov. Butch Otter’s budget proposals and Ybarra’s is discretionary spending — Otter has not recommended any increased funding in that area.

“Preparation (for developing the budget) is all year long,” Ybarra said. “You have meetings with stakeholders, of course we meet with the governor’s office, then you need to sit down and sketch that out. It’s not something I would sit and do in a vacuum.”

The public schools budget presentation is one of the most closely watched and scrutinized hearings of the session because of the amount of money in play. Public school funding is the state’s largest expense each year, and accounts for about 48 percent of all general fund spending.

“As a matter of fact, Wednesday night I’m sure I will be up all night long excited,” Ybarra said.

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