BURLEY • About 100 Magic Valley educators gathered Thursday in Burley to hear Idaho public schools chief Tom Luna and other education officials outline changes made in the Legislature that will affect Gem State schools in the coming year.

“I’m happy this year to bring at least some encouraging news about where we are with education and particularly the budget,” Luna said. “This isn’t the end of the struggle and all of strife the economy has brought upon you and the schools, but it is an indication that things are finally improving.”

Luna said the Legislature approved the state public schools budget for fiscal year 2013 at $1.6 billion, a 4.6 percent increase from this year. Luna said he’s encouraged that educators won’t have to deal with another funding reduction.

The budget will allow the state to increase minimum teacher salaries by $500 to $30,500 and fund the expanding technology mandated by the Students Come First education reforms.

Luna said the average teacher pay in Idaho will increase by more than $2,000 next year, thanks in part to $38.8 million in new funding to cover the state’s merit-based bonus plan for educators.

“I’m excited about this and think it’s a step in the right direction in helping us keep the great teachers we already have and attracting more of the best and brightest into the teaching profession,” Luna said. “We know a highly effective teacher is by far the most important factor in a 21st century classroom.”

State Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath said Idaho education officials hold the annual post-legislative tour to inform educators across the state about law changes and how the public schools budget will impact them through the next school year.

“Since we’ve passed the Students Come First education reform laws, they are so comprehensive and there are so many changes involved (that) we want to make sure educators at all levels know what the changes are about,” she said.

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