Ybarra seeks to ‘unfreeze’ teacher pay

State superintendent Sherri Ybarra’s budget presentations are normally one of the closest-watched hearings each year at the Statehouse. File photo by Sami Edge/ Idaho Education News.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra proposed unfreezing teacher pay as part of a “no-frills” budget request for next year that wrestles with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

For the 2021-22 budget request released Monday, Ybarra is proposing a $2 billion general fund K-12 spending plan that would increase funding by 1.5 percent above the level legislators originally approved for 2021.

The 1.5 percent increase is the smallest percentage increase Ybarra has proposed since first taking office in 2015.

Although it is her most modest request yet, Ybarra wants to direct money to increasing teacher pay and focusing on teacher retention.

“The pandemic has changed many things, including how we deliver instruction to students in many of our schools,” Ybarra said in a written statement. “But what hasn’t changed is the vital need for K-12 students to get the educational opportunities they deserve. And for that, we need dedicated teachers.”

From her budget, Ybarra wants to spend $21.7 million to unfreeze, or restore the career ladder teacher salary allocation program. All told, Ybarra wants to spend $1,035,000,000 for career ladder salaries and benefits. That would be a 4.9 percent increase over current budget levels, the State Department of Education said.

This spring, Gov. Brad Little announced he was implementing 5 percent, across-the-board holdbacks to the 2020-21 budget. He called for freezing the career ladder to realize some of the savings he sought.

Under Ybarra’s 2021-22 budget, movement would resume on the career ladder from one cell to the next for educators, communications director Karlynn Laraway said.

In May, Little estimated the state would save $26.6 million by freezing the career ladder. Ybarra’s $21.7 million proposal to unfreeze teacher pay “is based on a new career ladder data model that includes updated data on teacher and pupil services staff placement on the career ladder,” Laraway said.

Ybarra’s budget request also includes $3.4 million for 2 percent raises for classified staff members.

Finally, the proposal calls for increasing discretionary funds (which some school officials call operational funds) by $10.6 million to help cover increases in employees’ health insurance costs.

Ybarra’s budget proposal is just that — a proposal. She won’t officially present it to the Legislature until January or February at the Statehouse. State agency directors submit budget requests to Little and the state by Sept. 1 each year to get the budget process rolling. Ybarra chooses to release her request to the public before the legislative session to add an element of transparency to the budget process, she has said in previous years.

Ybarra’s request won’t be the only proposal on the table for the Legislature.

Little is expected to release his budget proposal and revenue forecast in January in conjunction with his State of the State address and the opening of the 2021 legislative session.

Education is the state’s largest expense each year, with K-12 schools accounting for about 49 percent of general fund spending.

Clark Corbin

About Clark Corbin

Reporter Clark Corbin has covered Idaho government and education for more than a decade. He’s followed every legislative session, gavel-to-gavel, since 2011. Clark is a co-host of the Extra Credit podcast with Kevin Richert published on Fridays. You can follow him on Twitter: @clarkcorbin. He can be reached by email at [email protected]

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