Classrooms, instruction are improving as new school year begins

As students start a new school year, they and their families should be confident that Idaho is focused on providing the opportunities and support they need to learn and achieve. Our five-year plan for improving education in Idaho is well underway, and recommendations from the Task Force for Improving Education are being deployed in schools and districts across Idaho.

Among the most important of these is a renewed focus on reading literacy. With an appropriation of more than $9 million for the budget year that began July 1, districts will be able to provide additional support to struggling readers in kindergarten through third grade. More immediate and focused intervention will mean that those students have a better chance to catch up to grade level and be prepared to move on.

Ensuring that students master content and skills before they advance is the basis for Idaho’s shift to mastery based education. With help from a cadre of Idaho educators and national experts, the first group of 19 schools and districts are starting to implement mastery education models in every region of the state this year. These incubators will pave the way for others to transition to more individualized, project-based learning focused on student outcomes.

We are entering the second year of increased funding for teacher salaries through the career ladder. Continued support for higher salaries for educators will be critical as school districts work to address the teacher shortage Idaho and many other states are facing. Continued investment in professional development for teachers also is crucial to ensuring that teachers have the support and opportunities they need to grow in their profession and improve instruction.

With an appropriation of $31 million for this school year, we fulfilled the promise to restore funding for district operations to pre-recession levels two years ahead of schedule. Coupled with an infusion of funds in other targeted areas, Idaho has made great strides in support of our education system.

Idaho’s programs to provide high school students with opportunities to earn college credit or technical certifications also continue to grow. In addition, this year students will receive more college and career advising with a new $5 million appropriation. While it’s a good start, I will ask the Legislature for additional funding for these efforts in 2017 so that students and parents can make more informed decisions about the future.

We hope the future leads many students to one of Idaho’s institutions of higher learning. In order to reach the state’s goal that 60 percent of our citizens age 25-34 attain a postsecondary degree or technical certification by 2020, we need students to go on after high school.

I want to thank the 2016 Legislature for doubling the funds for the Idaho Opportunity Scholarship, which helps students with financial need and merit to achieve their goal of going on. In addition, I will ask the 2017 Legislature to approve funding for the Adult Completion Scholarship to help those Idahoans with some college but no degree to come back and finish a degree or certificate.

While we are making tremendous progress in education, K through Career, there remains much work to be done and additional investments are required. The continued partnership of educators, school boards, legislators and education organizations is essential as we work toward our common goal of improving education in Idaho. I am committed to the course we have charted and confident in the investments we are making in Idaho’s future.

Butch Otter is the governor of Idaho.