Idaho lawmakers put down payment on restoring schools

Proposed budget gives more money for Idaho classrooms and teacher training.

IDAHO EDUCATION NEWSMarch 4, 2014 

Correction: This story originally cited an incorrect dollar amount for the money coming from the general fund.

With state budget writers approving a $66 million raise, Idaho schools may finally be seeing their way out of the recession.

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee set a budget Monday of nearly $1.4 billion, a 5.1 percent increase in state general fund spending. That’s well above Gov. Butch Otter’s proposed 2.9 percent and includes a 1 percent pay increase for teachers.

Legislative budget writers haven’t finished their work on the K-12 budget yet. They still need to figure out how to spend $2.25 million on school WiFi and $4.5 million for an instructional-management system designed to help teachers align curriculum to individual student performance.

The budget reverses $35 million in cuts that school districts absorbed during the Great Recession.

“This is the best public school budget we will have set since 2008,” said Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, JFAC’s co-chairman. “This is a really good budget. It’s not perfect, certainly, but it’s as good a public school budget as we’ve seen in a long time.”

The budget was broken into seven components, with the biggest debates surrounding salaries and technology.

The Republican super-majority led the push for 1 percent raises for teachers and administrators.

Democratic Reps. Shirley Ringo, of Moscow, and Phylis King, of Boise, pushed for 1.5 percent raises.

“Every budget that we pass reflects on our values. As we all know, since the downturn in the economy, we’ve made significant changes to the state salary schedule that goes out to districts to pay teachers,” Ringo said. “The point is, all teachers have felt the bite of those changes, every single one of them.”

Budget highlights:

- $35 million to help restore operations, a 12 percent increase over this year. But districts say they need $82 million to make up for what they lost during recessionary cuts.

- Increasing operations money for each classroom unit from $20,000 to $22,401.

- $13.9 million in ongoing new money for teacher pay. That includes a 1 percent increase in base salaries for teachers and raising the minimum teacher salary from $31,000 to $31,750.

- An additional $15.8 million in ongoing money for teacher leadership awards.

- $8 million for classroom technology.

- $12.25 million for teachers’ professional development, which includes training for gifted and talented student programs.

- $5 million in one-time funding for content and curriculum materials.

- $2.25 million in one-time funding for Wi-Fi installation. But the committee members did not decide how to spend this $2.25 million; the vote on legislative “intent language” was put on hold for three days.

- $4.5 million to continue a statewide instructional management system. But budget-writers did not decide how to proceed — or how to act on the contract for the troubled Schoolnet system, which expires in June. Discussion of this “intent language” is on hold for three days.

Statesman reporter Bill Roberts contributed.

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