Otter: Restore $82.5 million for schools

Idaho's governor sets a five-year goal for implementing an education task force’s proposals.

dpopkey@idahostatesman.comAugust 28, 2013 

Gov. Butch Otter signaled that his top spending priority springing from a new report will be getting back the operational revenue that school districts have lost since 2008.

“We’ve got to backfill some things,” Otter told the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday. “There were some cuts we made between ’08 and ’10 that were necessary but unfortunate.”

House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, welcomed Otter’s suggestion. Bedke was among a group of legislative leaders who met with Otter on Tuesday to discuss the recommendations of a task force the governor empaneled in December. The panel issued its report last week.

Bedke said he will urge the Legislature’s K-12 Educational System Interim Committee to “pick up where the task force left off” and smooth the way for lawmaking in the 2014 Legislature. That committee meets Sept. 12 and Oct. 2.

Otter said he’s asked his budget staff to price out the recommendations. The biggest item by committee estimates is a six-year, $253 million teacher pay plan. The task force unanimously urged raising minimum teacher salaries to $40,000, from $31,000 now; and lifting pay for longtime educators to $60,000, while tying the top scale to performance.

Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, has said that the price tag could break the bank, but others say the money would retain good teachers.

The whole package of task force recommendations would cost roughly $350 million, Otter said.

“We can’t do that in one year, we can’t do it in two years, or maybe three — I wish we could, but we can’t,” he said. “But what we can do is set ourselves on a course that we accomplish so much every year, and four or five years out we accomplish the entire package. So I want to see what those prices are and what we can prioritize first.”

Among the panel’s other recommendations are boosting classroom technology and wireless access, as well as support for new math, reading and writing standards, called the Idaho Core Standards.

Otter said delivering higher-level classes to rural schools hinges on technology “so that we can really accomplish the dictates of our Constitution that says that we should provide for a system of free, uniform and thorough common public schools.”

Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics

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