Ybarra seeks $110 million budget boost for K-12

In her first budget request as state superintendent, Sherri Ybarra is seeking a $110 million spending boost for K-12 — with an emphasis on teacher pay and funding help for school districts.

Ybarra
Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra / file photo by Andrew Reed.

Ybarra unveiled details of her request Wednesday, and said she is seeking a 7.5 percent increase for public schools.

“It is a budget that recognizes local control, while increasing opportunities for all students across our great state to achieve,” Ybarra said in a news release.

The proposal would push general fund spending for schools to a record $1.58 billion. But the 7.5 percent increase is roughly in line with the 7.4 percent boost passed earlier this year.

The Ybarra budget proposes spending increases in two high-profile areas: the “career ladder” to boost teacher pay; and operational funding — sometimes called discretionary spending — for school districts.

Ybarra’s proposal seeks an additional $98.1 million for the career ladder — the Legislature’s five-year, high-profile plan to boost salaries, particularly for new teachers and teachers at the lower end of the state’s pay scale.

The Legislature passed and Gov. Butch Otter signed the career ladder earlier this year, putting an additional $33.5 million into salaries.

The $98.1 million proposal would cover salary increases and teacher benefits, said Tim Hill, a budget analyst in Ybarra’s State Department of Education. The line item is designed to cover current teachers as they move to the next rung of the complicated new salary schedule. And those increases could vary widely, ranging from 1.26 percent to 10.13 percent — depending on where teachers sit on the career ladder.

The salary picture is more clear for school administrators and certified school employees, such as custodial and cafeteria staff. Pay for both groups would increase by 1 percent.

The Ybarra budget also proposes to restore operational funding to its high-water mark, from before the Great Recession.

She recommends giving districts $25,696 per “support unit,” a budgeting term that roughly translates to a classroom. The 2014-15 budget provides $23,868 per support unit.

“One of the bright spots, really, was that operational funding increase,” Ybarra told Idaho Education News on Wednesday afternoon. “During my listening tour, and as I travel the state, that was the No. 1 concern. Again remember that was 2009 and this is 2015 and going into 2016, so it’s a step in the right direction. … My team made sure it was the No. 1 priority, but we do still have a lot of work to do.”

Schools received $25,696 per support unit in 2008-09, before the recession triggered an unprecedented series of cuts in K-12 budgets. Local school administrators have long clamored for the state to restore operational funding — a versatile budget line item they can use to cover salaries and benefits, supplies, utilities and transportation.

All told, Ybarra recommends a $30.6 million increase in operational spending. More than $27 million is needed just to reverse the lingering, recession-era budget cuts. But nearly $3 million is needed to pay for enrollment growth, said Hill; as districts continue to add students, the state has to fund more classrooms statewide.

Ybarra also proposes other spending increases:

  • An $800,000 increase to develop a mastery-based school system — tripling this line item from $400,000 to $1.2 million.
  • Doubling the budget to review the sensitive and controversial teacher evaluation system. This budget would go from $300,000 to $600,400. Training in evaluations would also increase sharply, from $300,000 in 2015-16 to $700,400.
  • A $2 million boost in technology spending, on top of this year’s $13 million line item.
  • A new, $5 million line item focused on literacy proficiency.

Ybarra said her and her team devoted months to the budget proposal and went through more than 30 drafts.

“I feel very good about the quality of work put forward because it was a collaborative and transparent process,” Ybarra said in an interview Wednesday. “Bottom line: We had everybody at the table and we listened and I feel very good about how it is going to help all students in Idaho.”

Ybarra’s proposal is but the first word in a budget process that will unfold over the next six months.

After poring over all agency budgets, Otter will unveil his spending blueprint on Jan. 11, the first day of the 2016 legislative session.

Then, legislators get their shot at the budget. The Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee will hear a presentation from Ybarra in late January, then craft a budget bill, most likely in March. If that budget passes both houses, it goes to Otter.

Last year, Ybarra took some criticism for proposing a 6.4 percent budget increase — below the 7.4 percent increase sought by Otter and seconded by lawmakers.

Ybarra, who took office in early January, said her proposal for 6.4 percent increase was modeled after the blueprint written by her predecessor, fellow Republican Tom Luna. He had proposed a 6.9 percent increase.

Idaho Education News reporter Clark Corbin contributed to this report.