Students all over Idaho are returning to classrooms with high expectations for the new school year. Our job as educators, parents, policymakers and citizens is to ensure they have high-quality opportunities to pursue and support to succeed.
I can report to you that our state is making tremendous strides in improving education K through career. As we continue to implement the comprehensive five-year plan developed by my Task Force for Improving Education, we will be better able to recruit and retain great teachers, offer more individualized and advanced opportunities for students and create schools that reflect the needs of the future. Our state will have a better prepared work force, higher postsecondary degree and credential attainment and a more robust economy.
School districts now are getting significantly more money for teacher salaries through the career ladder. This new framework of increased funding for teacher pay establishes clear expectations while rewarding exceptional work by educators. When fully implemented, the career ladder will allocate more than $213 million in new funds for districts’ personnel costs – their largest annual expenditure. That kind of ongoing financial commitment from Idaho taxpayers will help ensure school districts have the ability to attract and retain great teachers.
With additional funding for operations, districts will be able to restore services and educational opportunities pared during the Great Recession. The task force recommended a five-year plan to responsibly and sustainably restore discretionary funding, and with this year’s $38.6 million investment we have restored more than $63 million, well ahead of the implementation plan. I appreciate the Legislature for joining me in keeping our promise to restore public school and education funding first as Idaho’s economy recovers.
The Legislature also approved more funding for teacher training, specifically covering the cost of more job-embedded professional development and teacher collaboration. And we took another step toward getting caught up with funding for classroom technology so that students learn in 21st century classrooms as they prepare for 21st century jobs.
As we enable Idaho public schools to keep improving in response to rising academic standards and the needs of individual students, we are working with educators and national experts on implementing a mastery-based education system in which students move at their own pace through content areas. This will give students more ownership and control of their education and help teachers identify struggling students to provide quick, individual support. We are fortunate to have top-notch teachers from around the state working on how to make this happen.
In our progress toward the goal of having 60 percent of Idaho citizens ages 25-34 with a postsecondary certificate or degree by 2020, we continue to work closely with higher education leaders on providing opportunities for students to earn college credits in high school. State support for these opportunities is growing. In the coming year I will ask the Legislature for funding to provide more college and career advising for students to help them identify opportunities that best meet their interests and needs.
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While we are making significant progress in addressing the most critical challenges facing education, there is much more work to be done in order to achieve and maintain the kind of education system of which we all can be proud. Various stakeholder committees are refining the task force recommendations and advancing implementation plans. I thank all the teachers, administrators, school board members, legislators and education organizations for continuing to give their time and expertise to create a world-class educational experience for Idaho students.
Idaho’s economy is growing. Our education system must grow with it. We owe it to those who want to make a living and a life in Idaho. We owe it to all those Idahoans who wish their children and grandchildren could live closer to home while pursuing higher education and a career. But most of all we owe it to the children in whom we put our hopes and dreams for a brighter future.
The coming year will require another major investment in education. I remain committed to continued implementation of the task force recommendations, and I will work with the State Board of Education, Superintendent Ybarra, the Legislature and all education stakeholders to ensure that we keep K-through-career education in Idaho moving in the right direction.
Butch Otter is serving his third term as Idaho governor.