Erasing recession-era school budget cuts and launching a new rural education center top Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra’s legislative priorities for 2016.
The Mountain Home Republican will begin working on those priorities when the 2016 session kicks off Monday. Ybarra took office days before the 2015 session opened, and generally adhered to the budget blueprint outlined by her predecessor, Tom Luna.
“I’m really excited this year,” Ybarra said. “Last year I had to present someone else’s budget, so this year I’ve had an entire year of collaborating.”
The session kicks off with Gov. Butch Otter’s State of the State address on Jan. 11, as the governor unveils his 2016-17 spending plan. Ybarra is scheduled to present her budget proposal to the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on Jan. 28.
Last year, lawmakers pressed Ybarra for more specifics after she spent just 17 minutes on her inaugural budget presentation.
This year, Ybarra said, things would be different. In preparation for the session, Ybarra met with members of education groups to hear what teachers, administrators, parents and school board members want to accomplish.
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Ybarra released her budget blueprint to the public in September. Her 2016-17 proposal calls for increasing education spending by $110 million, or 7.5 percent.
“Nothing is a surprise, everyone is well aware of what is coming forward,” Ybarra said. “I’ve spent the entire year working with groups and getting feedback.”
Ybarra has requested a $30.6 million increase in school operations funding — often called discretionary funding, in legislative lingo. Her budget would give districts $25,696 per classroom unit, the high-water mark reached during in 2008-09, before lawmakers cut and froze budgets in response to the Great Recession.
For 2014-15, per-classroom funding levels were set at $23,868.
“The very first focus was that discretionary funding,” Ybarra said of her meetings with education group leaders.
As for her other top priority, Ybarra hopes to set aside $300,000 in new funding for a rural schools center. The center would be aimed partially at combatting teacher shortages — particularly in chemistry and special education.
“Special education particularly is in critical condition,” Ybarra said. “What I mean by that is those are our most vulnerable kids in the state of Idaho and we need good folks in those positions.”
Ybarra envisions the rural center as a vehicle to pool resources for the benefit of smaller districts.
“There are job-sharing opportunities, there are opportunities to fill those positions, such as special education, and share those great folks with surrounding rural districts in Idaho,” Ybarra said.
Ybarra wants to spend an additional $56.4 million on teacher pay to implement the second year of the career ladder salary law passed by the 2015 Legislature.
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