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Ybarra calls for 2.5 percent increase in public school funding

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Ybarra calls for 2.5 percent increase in public school funding
Posted at 8:28 AM, Jan 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-29 10:28:39-05

BOISE, Idaho — This article was written by Clark Corbin of Idaho Education News.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra rolled out a historic $2 billion K-12 funding proposal that would increase funding for teacher salaries next year.

Ybarra spent more than 90 minutes Thursday briefing the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on her school budget proposals for the 2022 budget year.

Her presentation was detailed and wide-ranging, covering K-12 disruptions and rapid adaptions during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and her top priorities for moving forward.

“I don’t have to tell you that there has never been a more challenging time for education in our state, as well as our nation,” Ybarra told legislators. “The COVID-19 pandemic has created circumstances none of us ever contemplated.”

Both Ybarra and Gov. Brad Little are requesting the state spend more than $2 billion from the state’s general fund budget for K-12, for the first time in state history.

Ybarra’s plan calls for a 2.5 percent increase in general fund spending for K-12. Little has asked for a 3.7 percent increase. The differences are small and mostly deal with salary calculations dating back to budget holdbacks tied to the pandemic.

Little is asking for $47.3 million for the career ladder for salaries and benefits and growth, while Ybarra is seeking $24.1 million.

Although the two sides seem like they are far apart, the difference is really a matter of timing more than philosophy.

Ybarra had to submit her budget proposal last August, when there was more uncertainty about holdbacks in place. Little was able to wait until this month to develop his proposal.

Little’s budget recommendation would move teachers on the career ladder in the 2021 and 2022 budget years and build out a new advanced placement rung next year. So Little got to recommend two years of movement up the ladder while Ybarra assumed there would only be one.

“You heard me say this morning that with our bright economy, I am asking JFAC for a restoration of that (movement on the ladder),” Ybarra said in an interview with Idaho Education News.

Ybarra supplemented all the spreadsheets, graphs, calculations and bean-counting associated with budget hearings with stories about how education has changed and schools have responded to the pandemic.

“There were interruptions. There were starts and stops and glitches, as you know, with technology and there was host of all challenges,” Ybarra said. “I am proud of our hard-working educators and our staff that helped keep our students learning.”

Highlights from Ybarra’s budget include:

  • $24.1 million to increase teacher pay and benefits through the career ladder.
  • $10.6 million to increase funding for the healthcare costs portion of discretionary funding.
  • $9.7 million for advanced opportunity programs that allow students to earn college credits while in high school.
  • $1.7 million to increase funding for master educator premiums.
  • $408,100 to pay for leadership premiums due to estimated growth in instructional- and pupil-services staff.

Ybarra’s budget proposal also includes several recommended funding decreases due to uncertain economic conditions. She said she will seek to reverse many of those decreases when the economy and revenue allow. Many of the reductions were targeted to areas where schools can use federal emergency stimulus funds to backfill the cuts:

  • A $10 million decrease in technology funds.
  • A $9 million decrease for professional development.
  • A $4 million decrease for IT staffing and support.

Ybarra also used her presentation to highlight social-emotional learning needs of students and staff and share concerns about suicide rates.

Afterward, Ybarra received several compliments from lawmakers.

“I want to thank you and your office for your commitment to our students’ mental health,” said Rep. Colin Nash, D-Boise.

“That was a long time; you did well,” said Sen, Steve Bair, a Blackfoot Republican who serves as a JFAC co-chairman.

The toughest questions came from Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg. Nate pushed Ybarra on performance measures he said are largely below state benchmarks or flat. Nate then questioned the state’s return on investment.

Nate complimented Idaho teachers and said he attributes performance issues to Idaho’s Common Core-aligned academic standards.

Ybarra, the State Department of Education and State Board of Education are in the process of rewriting academic standards in math, English and science. They plan to present proposed new standards to the 2022 Legislature.

Public school spending is the state’s largest expense each year, accounting for about 49 percent of general fund spending.

Thursday’s closely watched hearing amounts to Ybarra’s formal funding pitch. JFAC is not scheduled to begin setting budgets until Feb. 19.

Thursday’s hearing ran long and JFAC did not have time for a briefing on Little’s 5 percent budget holdbacks for the current budget year. Bair said that briefing will be rescheduled.

After the hearing, Ybarra said her budget proposal went “beautifully” and she enjoyed the chance to be an advocate for funding that would benefit students, families, schools and educators.