Ybarra to ask for 6.8 percent increase in K-12 funding

(UPDATED, 5:45 p.m., Sept. 5, with revised budget information from Ybarra’s office.)

State superintendent Sherri Ybarra says she will ask the 2019 Legislature for a 6.8 percent increase for Idaho public education with the majority of the investment going to teacher pay.

The 2019-20 budget request — which hinges on the outcome of November’s general election — comes to $2.28 billion, and includes a $122 million increase in general fund support. Ybarra is proposing to increase teacher pay by $80.7 million.

“Increasing pay has been and remains the No. 1 priority of stakeholders, and I agree wholeheartedly,” Ybarra said in a news release. “I heard a desire for a ‘bold ask’ for teacher pay. This isn’t just bold — it’s essential.”

Ybarra’s teacher pay request breaks down into three items:

  • $52.9 million for a fifth year of pay raises, under Idaho’s career ladder salary plan.
  • An additional $27.8 million to put more money into salaries. Originally, Ybarra said the extra money would fund a $40,000 salary for beginning teachers and provide a maximum salary of $58,000. Ybarra walked those numbers back Wednesday, saying the extra money would boost minimum salaries to $37,200 and maximum salaries to $52,000. As now written — and without the extra money requested by Ybarra — the fifth year of the career ladder would provide a salary range from $37,000 to $50,000.
  • $11.9 million for the first year of master educator premiums, which provides qualifying educators an annual $4,000 bonus for three years.

Passed by the 2015 Legislature, the career ladder is the state’s centerpiece plan to boost teacher salaries. The plan has enjoyed widespread support at the Statehouse. In 2018, lawmakers voted unanimously to put $761.6 million into the career ladder.

“The budget that was released today is neither new nor bold,” said Cindy Wilson, Ybarra’s Democratic opponent in the November election. “It’s like bragging about getting the ball in your own 15-yard line, ignoring the fact we still have 85 yards to go! It’s time we do something different.”

Ybarra also said she would seek $19.1 million for school safety — for this school year.

This budget request would cover the rollout of her Keep Idaho Students Safe (KISS) Initiative, first proposed in March. Education stakeholders have voiced concerns over the proposal, saying they were not included in the planning process.

The bulk of the school safety money, $18.5 million, would go for one-time grants to schools. Ybarra proposes spending $410,000 to develop a safety course for teachers; $200,000 for a statewide safety tip line; and $38,900 for a crisis communication counselor to support districts.

Her 2019-20 budget request addresses year two of the safety plan: implementing the safety course, continuing the tip line, and offering state counseling support. The second-year cost comes to $1.6 million.

Ybarra also proposed spending $980,000 to launch a five-year incentive program to encourage graduates to enter the teaching profession and work in rural schools.

Ybarra proposes several other spending increases budget:

  • A $7.4 million increase to cover health insurance cost increases.
  • A $7.4 million increase in discretionary funding for school districts. For this school year, districts received $421.5 million in discretionary dollars, which can be used to cover salaries, classroom supplies or any number of other local needs.
  • A $3 million increase for the advanced opportunities program, which allows high school students to take state-funded college-level classes. This year’s program budget comes to $15 million.
  • A $2 million increase for teacher training.
  • A $3 million increase for classroom technology. The current technology budget comes to $36.5 million.
  • A $1.4 million increase to expand mastery programs, which allow students to move through schools based on subject knowledge, rather than seat time. The 2018 Legislature rejected a proposal to expand the mastery program.

Ybarra’s budget request was due to retiring Gov. Butch Otter Tuesday — and its release comes as the fall election season begins.

And a new governor will unveil a K-12 budget in early January. GOP Lt. Gov. Brad Little and former legislator and Plummer Democrat Paulette Jordan will square off in two months in hopes of succeeding Otter.

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