Ybarra prepares for public school budget hearing

State Superintendent Sherri Ybarra's public school budget hearing is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 26 at the Statehouse.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra will make her formal pitch this week to increase school funding by more than $100 million.

Ybarra’s budget presentation — set for Thursday morning in front of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee — will be one of the highlights of education week at the Statehouse.

Education week is an annual event at the Statehouse, which is marked by public school and college and university budget presentations, as well as rallies, speakers and informational events taking place throughout the Statehouse.

Ybarra released her preliminary budget request back in September in order to add a degree of transparency to the state’s largest expense.

Although that preliminary budget report gives the public a window into Ybarra’s priorities, her official hearing isn’t until Thursday. This year’s budget hearing will follow a slightly different format designed to focus more on budget specifics than in years past.

The numbers game

Gov. Butch Otter kicked off the 2017 legislative session by calling for a 6.4 percent increase in public school spending. In September, Ybarra signaled that she will call for a 6.7 percent increase in public school funding — once funding for the Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind is factored in.

Both budget requests are similar. Overall, Ybarra wants to increase public school funding by $105.6 million next year, while Otter called for a $101.4 million increase.

The top priorities for Otter and Ybarra are identical as well. Both called for spending $58 million to increase teacher pay through the Legislature’s signature teacher pay law, the career ladder. However, Otter’s camp signaled this week that it will increase that request by $4 million due to unexpected student growth.

Funding differences

Despite their similar bottom lines and top priorities, there are several small, but notable differences between Ybarra and Otter’s budgets.

Those include:

  • Classroom technology: Otter $10 million; Ybarra $8 million
  • Funding for school districts’ health benefits: Otter $15 million; Ybarra $0
  • Increase in discretionary spending: Otter $0; Ybarra $16.2 million (increasing per-classroom spending from $25,696 to $26,467).
  • Professional development: Otter $6 million; Ybarra $2.5 million.
  • College and career advisors: Otter $5 million; Ybarra $2 million.
  • Raises for classified staff who are not subject to the career ladder: Otter flat 3 percent raises; Ybarra $11 million.
  • Math initiative / math coaches: Otter $0; Ybarra $1.6 million.
  • Replacing Idaho’s reading assessment: Otter $2 million; Ybarra $5.9 million.
  • Increasing reading proficiency: Otter $0; Ybarra $2 million.

Prospects for a rural schools center

Ybarra has signaled she will continue to push for the creation of a rural schools center. Last year, that proposal died in the Senate after budget writers declined to provide $300,000 to fund it.

Ybarra’s team is resurrecting the proposal this year, and again requesting $300,000 in startup money. Duncan Robb, Ybarra’s chief policy officer, is shopping around proposed legislative language that would enact the rural schools program. They’ve also re-branded the proposal, referring to the proposal as the rural education support networks.

Ybarra also has a decision to make when it comes to paying for the rural education support network. Her original budget proposal from September called for funding the proposal out of the public school budget. In November, members of the Idaho School Board Association vote to support the rural schools proposal only if it is paid for by Ybarra’s State Department of Education budget, not the public school budget.

Ybarra has not announced whether she will amend her budget request to win favor from the ISBA.

“Related to Rural School Support Networks, the superintendent is still developing her message to JFAC and will address Rural School Support Networks next Thursday,” Church said in a written statement. 

Education week highlights at the Statehouse

Monday

  • 9 a.m., first floor rotunda, National School Choice Week breakfast and speeches
  • 9 a.m – 1 p.m., second floor rotunda, State Department of Education public open house designed to showcase the return on investment for public schools.
  • 4 p.m., Room WW-17, free screening of the documentary “Most likely to succeed,” sponsored by Bluum and National School Choice Week.

Tuesday

  • Noon- 4 p.m., STEM Matters Workshop: A hands-on educational program sponsored by Idaho’s STEM Action Center, which will feature student projects and a chance to connect with businesses that are making waves within the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math.

Thursday

  • 8 a.m., public school budget hearing, Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee: Ybarra and the state’s nonpartisan budget analysts will present Ybarra’s budget request for the 2017-18 school year and field questions from lawmakers.

Friday

  • 8 a.m., Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee: STEM Action Center and career-technical education budget hearings.