Ybarra seeks 5.3 percent increase for public schools

Ybarra seeks 5.3 percent increase for public schools

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Ybarra

State Superintendent Sherri Ybarra presents to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee Thursday in the Capitol in Boise.

Originally posted on IdahoEdNews.org on Jan. 23.BOISE — Using her experience on Gov. Brad Little’s K-12 task force as a guide, schools chief Sherri Ybarra on Thursday made her formal request to the Legislature to increase public school funding by $101 million for next year.

Ybarra, a Republican from Mountain Home, spent one hour and 40 minutes guiding budget writers from the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee through her 2020-21 K-12 public school budget request.

“Our investment in education is an investment in our children, who are Idaho’s future,” Ybarra said.

The details and the dollars weren’t a surprise because Ybarra released her budget request to the public in September.

All told, Ybarra is seeking nearly $2 billion in general fund spending for public schools next year. That’s a 5.3% increase, corresponding to $101 million in new spending.

In alignment with the “Our Kids, Idaho’s Future” task force and Little’s top priority, Ybarra is building her budget around increasing pay for Idaho’s veteran teachers. She wants to work toward a 2013 task force’s recommendation to have salary bases of $40,000, $50,000 and $60,000 for teachers, noting that it will take incremental progress over the next few years to get there.

“Human capital is our most important asset,” Ybarra said. “As usual, the largest increase in my budget is for salaries for teachers and pupil-services staff.”

Highlights of Ybarra’s budget proposal include:

  • $40 million in new funding for raises for veteran teachers.
  • $17.3 million to increase discretionary funding to pay for both healthcare costs and general operations. Under such a move, Ybarra would increase per-classroom funding (referred to as funding per support unit in budget lingo) from $15,601 to $15,786.
  • $3.1 million in new funding to make the $26 million literacy initiative an annual, ongoing program.
  • $2 million in new funding for advanced opportunities.
  • $1 million in new funding to provide resources and support for students social-emotional learning needs.
  • $500,000 to increase funding for the master education program.

There are a few differences between Ybarra and Little’s budget requests. Overall, Little is seeking a smaller, 4.1% funding increase. Little asked for $10 million less for veteran teacher salaries. Additionally, Little is not seeking to increase funding per classroom, although his budget projects the number of classrooms to increase at the same rate as Ybarra’s budget does.

House Vice Chairwoman Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, called Thursday’s budget hearing “a good conversation.”

But now Horman said she will want the details about how the budget numbers align with policy. It will be up to the House and Senate education committees to take the lead on what those policies look like — in areas such as teacher pay raises and tying raises to student performance.

“(There’s) lots of work still to do, and waiting,” Horman said.

Co-Chairman Steve Bair, R- Blackfoot, thanked Ybarra for a detailed budget filled with “lots of facts, lots of figures, lots of numbers.”

Despite a positive reception in JFAC, Ybarra — and Little, who wasn’t present — received several questions from legislative budget writers.

Horman expressed concern with the state pulling about $32 million out of the Public Education Stabilization Fund to cover unexpected costs. Horman has previously suggested such a large withdraw from the savings account is unsustainable. On Thursday, she requested a district-by-district breakdown of transportation costs. Along with advanced opportunities programs, transportation costs led to the draw-down. Horman also requested detailed information about school district and charter school reserve fund balances, which Idaho Education News reported on in detail Wednesday.

Sen. Jeff Agenbroad, R-Nampa, expressed concern with the $4,125 that the state makes available to all secondary students for advanced opportunities, such as dual credit programs. Ybarra is seeking a $2 million increase next year for advanced opportunities.

But Agenbroad pointed out that only a fraction of Idaho students tap into the $4,125. Agenbroad and Sen. Jim Woodward, R-Sagle, told Idaho Education News during a break in the hearing that they are worried what will happen to the budget as more students take advantage of advanced opportunities programs. They also expressed concern with how the program affects Idaho’s colleges and universities.

“Sometimes a great idea’s success can be its downfall,” Agenbroad said. “The last thing I want is for this to become a downfall.”

Ybarra replied by saying the program allows students to save money by jumpstarting their education while still in high school. She added that her team has studied the issue, and said she shares legislators’ concerns about drawing down education savings accounts.

“I think the savings to the student is what we really need to be focusing on,” Ybarra said.

Thursday was Ybarra’s time to officially present her budget proposal. Next month, JFAC will transition from budget hearings to writing the state budget.

Legislators have increased K-12 spending by at least $100 million each year for the past five years. K-12 education funding accounts for about half of Idaho’s general fund spending. Once JFAC sets the 2020-21 budget, it will become clear what percentage of next year’s budget will be directed to public schools.

Public school spending is Idaho’s largest expense each year, which is why Ybarra’s budget hearings are closely scrutinized by legislators, taxpayers, educators and the news media.

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