Education Funding

Legislative budget writers are matching Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's request to restore public education money slashed during the economic downturn by adding roughly $101 million to the Idaho schools budget.

The Joint Finance Appropriations Committee approved increasing the schools budget by 7.4 percent on Friday. The proposal now needs to pass both chambers, but the legislation is expected to pass.

The proposal includes allotting $33.5 million to boost teacher pay, part of a five-year teacher pay increase plan lawmakers approved earlier this week.

Rookie teachers in Idaho will receive pay raises starting July 1 under a $125 million proposal headed to the governor's desk for his signature.

The Idaho Senate unanimously approved the measure Thursday, where senators offered only praise that the 30-page bill had survived both chambers after seeing prior proposals flounder this legislative session.

Education, school, classroom
IlmicrofonoOgglono / Flickr Creative Commons

The average teacher pay in Idaho dropped by more than $200 from 2012-13 to 2013-14 — a decrease that the state’s teachers’ union can’t explain.

On average, only two states pay their teachers less than Idaho.

A March 10 hearing on a teacher career ladder bill drew dozens of teachers to the Statehouse to testify. A new version of the bill passed the House Monday.

But meanwhile, pay appeared to increase for Idaho “instructional staff,” including counselors, principals and curriculum specialists.

The Basin School District in rural south-central Idaho has something most districts in the state don't: preschool. But now that's at risk because of federal funding cuts.

It's not alone: Sparsely populated school districts and counties covered in federal forest lands will have less money this year — $250 million less — because Congress allowed the Secure Rural Schools Act to expire.

Since Idaho doesn't have public preschool, schools that want to offer it have to find creative ways to pay for the program — state money isn't an option.

West Ada School District

Across the state, a high-stakes school election day looms on Tuesday.

How high are the stakes? There are at least $393.3 million in bond issues and school levies on the ballot next week.

A House panel is considering a plan to spend $2.5 million to support school counselors and lay out specific guidelines for their job descriptions.

The House Education Committee introduced the bill Thursday.

Marilyn Whitney, education liaison for Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, says counselors often get sidetracked by having to substitute teach or maintain records.

According to the bill, counselors should spend their time helping students choose academic courses and work with students with disciplinary problems.

Idaho Capitol Dome
Emilie Ritter Saunders / Boise State Public Radio

Two months into Idaho’s legislative session, many of the priorities lawmakers set at the beginning of the year haven’t been touched. Legislative leaders say things like road and bridge funding and a tax overhaul may have to wait until next year.

At an event organized by the Idaho Press Club Wednesday, Speaker of the House Scott Bedke said he’s optimistic the session can end by March 27. That’s despite the fact that a highly-anticipated bill to give teachers a raise was introduced Wednesday and a comprehensive plan to pay for fixing Idaho’s roads and bridges hasn’t yet surfaced.

Classroom
Malate269 / Wikimedia Commons

A legislative panel is backing a bill that would let Idaho's Education Department contract with private companies for education programs, and then only pay once the programs are shown to work.

The House Education Committee unanimously approved the plan, dubbed "Pay for Success," on Monday.

Sen. Bob Nonini from Coeur d'Alene sponsored the legislation. He says Idaho would not have to pay any money unless an independent evaluator decides the educational pilot program has met its goals under the contract.

Usually, the state funds pilot programs with its own money.

Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra says she wants local school officials to decide how money should be spent in the classroom.

During her first budget presentation to the Legislature Thursday morning, Ybarra said she hadn't yet determined exactly how funds for some of her biggest policy initiatives would be spent. Instead, Ybarra said, she wanted to figure out those details once she saw just how much money the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee budgets for each line item.

Aaron Kunz / Idaho Public Television

Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter says he's going to ask the Idaho Legislature to restore funding for public schools back to pre-recessional levels. 

However, Otter and other legislative leaders noted that there is still no clear consensus regarding the Legislature's other pending issues such as a transportation funding and addressing the state's broken indigent care system.

Otter declined to reveal specifics about his proposed budget outline for the upcoming fiscal year. Instead, he says that information will be revealed during his State of the State address to lawmakers on Monday.

Idaho Education News

Idaho school districts are collecting more than $180 million in voter-approved supplemental levies in 2014-15.

This represents almost a 4 percent decrease from 2013-14, when districts collected more than $188 million in supplemental levies. But the dropoff can be explained by reduced levies in three of the state’s largest districts. Across the state, levy elections are more commonplace than ever.

Butch Otter
State of Idaho

Gov. Butch Otter says his 2015-16 budget blueprint has money set aside to launch a career ladder program to boost teacher pay.

“It’s within our parameters,” Otter said in a Wednesday interview with Idaho Education News. “I have every confidence that we will get the first year.”

facebook.com/pages/Lapwai-School-District

A school superintendent in northern Idaho says the reason his district hasn't had music classes in more than a year, and will soon switch to virtual gym classes, is as much about the difficulty of attracting and retaining qualified teachers in rural areas as it is about funding.

The story of Lapwai School District's  funding problems has been picked up by just about every news outlet in the state.

School Kid, Education, Computer
Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna is proposing a 6.9 percent budget increase to Idaho's public school funding for 2015. Luna says the budget calls for the largest spending increase he's ever proposed in his nearly eight-year tenure.  

Luna unveiled his budget Tuesday to Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and legislative leadership. However, because Luna isn't seeking a third-term, it'll be the winner of the November election who will be tasked with selling the $94 million budget increase to lawmakers during the next legislative session.

Idaho Education News

The West Ada School District will run another bond issue in an attempt to ease overcrowding issues.

But first, district officials want to look at the ingredients of a bond proposal — and crunch the precinct-by-precinct numbers from Tuesday’s vote.

“The kids aren’t going away and the need isn’t going to decrease,” West Ada Superintendent Linda Clark said Wednesday.

apple, fruit
Emilie Ritter Saunders / Boise State Public Radio

A $104 million bond that would have helped the West Ada School District address overcrowding failed Tuesday. It needed a two-thirds super majority to pass, but failed with 63 percent of the vote.

The Idaho Statesman reports the school's superintendent says overcrowding won't be going away, and the district will need to attempt the bond measure again.

Idaho Department of Commerce

Idaho’s public universities Wednesday told the State Board of Education what programs and degrees they’re ready to cut, which could lead to job layoffs. All four of Idaho’s four-year universities reported on a yearlong evaluation known as program prioritization. This was a requirement from the state board aimed at cost cutting.

Idaho's endowment fund hit a record high of $1.73 billion after earning high returns on its investments over the past year.

Investment manager Larry Johnson told the Idaho Land Board on Tuesday that the fund during the fiscal year that ended June 30 earned its second-highest amount in its history.

This is also the second year in a row the fund hit an all-time high.

That means there will be an increase in how much the fund can distribute to public schools and other endowment beneficiaries.

Classroom
Malate269 / Wikimedia Commons

The Coeur d'Alene Tribe has donated $1.2 million to 52 educational programs in Idaho.

The Coeur d'Alene Press reports the tribe made the announcement Thursday.

The money is going to support educational efforts ranging from reading, music, arts, science, college scholarship programs and vocational preparation.

The chairman of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, Chief Allen, says the money will allow students to focus on learning.

Most of the money was distributed in Kootenai and Benewah counties in northern Idaho.

Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

School districts across Idaho will be asking voters to approve supplemental levies Tuesday. That includes Meridian, Nampa, and Kuna. Districts going to voters for more money has become commonplace in recent years.

A little more than a decade ago, about a third of Idaho schools had levies in place. Now it’s two thirds, according to Mike Ferguson, head of the non-profit research group Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy. In that time, the money coming from levies has tripled to about $190 million. 

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