A state budget proposal isn’t a mere spending plan, it’s one of the ways our state sets its priorities for the coming year. Though budgets are not legislation, by choosing what to fund and what not to fund, budgets are effectively public policy, and should be evaluated as such.
Superintendent Tom Luna’s budget, released Thursday, tells us his priorities for Idaho schools — not just in the coming year, but for years to come.
The Idaho Education Association agrees that the Common Core — or in Idaho, the Idaho Core — standards are the best way to improve college and career readiness. Through the Idaho Core, the state provides benchmarks for student achievement while allowing local districts and educators the flexibility to sort out how to meet those goals.
We’d like to see this flexibility continued to other education priorities in the public school budget. The state has a right and an obligation to set minimum standards and to provide resources for our schools. Districts should be tasked with figuring out the best way to achieve these benchmarks.
Here are our thoughts on Superintendent Luna’s budget proposal:
$1.7M for assessment: The IEA has long maintained that testing is an important tool in a large tool kit that educators use to evaluate student progress. Supt. Luna’s budget makes testing a priority, requesting nearly $1 million for statewide SAT testing and $740,000 for other tests. We need to be thoughtful about how, when and how often we test students, and ensure that in our zeal to compare our student progress to those of students in other states, we don’t duplicate assessments.
$300,000 for administrator evaluations: The IEA is pleased that the state is establishing an administrator evaluation system. Equally important is the need to ensure principals understand what good teaching looks like and how to help teachers improve instruction. Establishing effective evaluation systems for both teachers and administrators is important; ensuring continued training and resources is critical to their success.
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$250,000 for the dual credit program: Research studies show that students who participate in concurrent college/high school enrollment are more likely to be successful in college. We applaud the effort to help families keep college costs down. The program should be redesigned to allow access to all students, however, not just those who have completed high school credits early.
$10.4M for classroom tech and $2.5M for district IT staffing: The IEA agrees that technology is a tool for education and not an end unto itself. Prior to 2011, the legislature provided technology funds directly to districts and decisions about how to spend those funds were locally determined. We hope this process will be restored under Supt. Luna’s plan. Likewise, while we’re happy to see an acknowledgement of the need for increased IT support, we’d like to leave hiring decisions up to the local districts.
$3.2M for Schoolnet training and $3.7M for Idaho Core professional development: A statewide student tracking system is an important resource to Idaho educators. Data should drive decisions about what and how students are taught. Given the state’s aggressive timeline for implementing the Idaho Core and limited professional development dollars, it is important that these funds be used wisely.
In his presentation before JFAC, Supt. Luna told lawmakers that his request for $3.7 million for professional development on the Idaho Core would be used only for materials and instruction. There are no funds in his proposal to pay for the time teachers will need to attend training. The state has required the implementation of the Idaho Core — it makes sense that the state should fund all parts of its implementation, including the full cost of training teachers, and professional development days outside the classroom.
Idaho is on track to begin implementing the Idaho Core standards in all Idaho classrooms next fall, and students will be tested on the standards the following year. It is crucial that we focus our collective efforts and resources into helping ensure teachers and students are prepared.
A 1.5% increase in discretionary funds: Though referred to as “discretionary funds,” local school districts have little discretion in how to expend these funds each year, and must spend them on items required to run a school in the 21st century: things like employee health insurance, utilities, professional training, and materials and supplies. We’re pleased that Supt. Luna is proposing a $300 increase per classroom. Unfortunately, this slight increase does not keep track with increased costs many districts are facing.
Improving Teacher Salaries: While we’re happy to see that the proposed budget includes an increase in the state minimum salary (to $31,000), salaries are still low, below 2009 levels. If we hope to continue to attract and retain the quality teachers Idaho kids deserve, we must make a commitment to improve the salaries of all education employees.
State differentiated pay system: There is no definitive research that shows that statewide bonus systems, performance pay, or differentiated pay schemes improve student outcomes. Instead of bringing back a statewide scheme like the one rejected by voters in November, local school districts should be encouraged to collaborate with employees to determine whether to implement such systems at the local school district level, and what such a system might look like.
Over the past several years, there has been widespread disagreement about the kinds of education decisions and the process for making decisions that affect our public schools. With this budget proposal, the superintendent is signaling his priorities for the coming years. At the same time, a group of dedicated stakeholders, the Governor’s Task Force on Improving Education, is also deliberating over these same questions. We hope that before lawmakers dive into new long term policy decisions, they will wait for the Governor’s task force to deliver their recommendations.