Ybarra to seek 6.6 percent increase in public school spending

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra will ask lawmakers to increase public schools funding by nearly $105 million in 2017-18, a 6.6 percent increase.

On Thursday, Ybarra and State Department of Education officials submitted their budget request to the state’s Division of Financial Management. (Click the highlighted text to review Ybarra’s FY18 Public Schools Budget Request.)

During an interview Thursday morning, Ybarra stressed that she built the plan around feedback from educators, taxpayers, Gov. Butch Otter and lawmakers.

“I’m feeling really good about this request,” Ybarra said. “The Legislature has been very kind to education, and there is a concerted effort to continue that.”

Lawmakers have approved a 7.4 percent increase in public school spending in each of the past two years.

Ybarra’s 2017-18 request actually amounts to a 6.7 percent increase, when funding for the Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind is factored in.

In crafting the budget, Ybarra and her team focused on several key areas — including continuing to fund teacher pay increases through another year of the career ladder. Ybarra also proposed classroom technology upgrades, increased pay for classified staff and ramping up the math and literacy initiatives.

Ybarra will again ask lawmakers for $300,000 to launch a rural schools center — a proposal that passed the House, but died in the Senate in the final hours of the 2016 session.

Budget highlights include:

  • A $57.8 million increase in teacher pay and benefits, through the career ladder.
  • An $11 million increase to support classified staff and allow districts to retain employees.
  • An additional $8 million for technology, above the 2016-17 budget of $18 million.
  • A $2 million increase in funding for college and career advisers and student mentors, bringing spending levels in that area to $11.1 million.
  • An additional $1.6 million for math coaches, with an eye to improving student achievement in math.
  • Launching the second phase of the state’s reading initiative. The $5.9 million increase would go into additional teacher training, and replacing or revamping the Idaho Reading Indicator test. There is also a separate $2 million increase for literacy proficiency.
  • A slight boost in school discretionary spending, increasing per-classroom spending from $25,696 to $26,467. (Restoring spending to pre-recession levels of $25,696 per classroom was a major theme of the 2016 session.)

Ybarra said she developed her budget over months of meetings with the Idaho Education Association, the Idaho Association of School Administrators, the Idaho School Boards Association and Idaho Business for Education.

“It wasn’t that the superintendent went into her office, dreamed this up and came out waiving it up above her head,” Ybarra said, adding she believes she has strong support for the budget. “It was very collaborative, very open and built from the ground up.”

One of Ybarra’s goals is to increase student achievement in math and literacy through targeted investments. Ybarra has expressed concern with Idaho students’ achievement and test results in math.

Increasing the budget for the math initiative will allow the state to pay for six new math coaches.

“Educators love the coaches because it is a peer-mentoring type of model, but there are not enough of them,” Ybarra said. “What our data is pointing to is that if there is not enough of them, that is probably why we’re not seeing so many gains in math.”

All agencies — including SDE — are required to submit budget requests to the state on Sept. 1. Ybarra said she opted to release her request publicly in the interest of transparency.

The budget request launches a political process that will stretch more than six months.

In January, Otter will open the 2017 session by revealing his budget requests for K-12 and other programs. In late January, Ybarra will make her formal pitch to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, the Legislature’s powerful and closely watched budget-writing committee.

By late February or early March, JFAC will write up budget bills, which must pass the House and Senate before going to Otter’s desk.

School funding is the state’s largest expense, accounting for about 48 percent of general fund expenditures.

“I’m excited to present this budget and show (lawmakers) everybody was at the table,” Ybarra said.