Idaho’s five-year plan to improve Idaho public education will get a $104.2 million bump under Gov. Butch Otter’s proposed budget for 2018. Otter’s overall budget request for public education to $1.68 billion, up 6.4 percent from the 2016-17 appropriation.
After his State of the State address Monday, Otter named Idaho teacher in space Barbara Morgan as the first recipient of the Idaho Medal of Achievement. It is the top civilian honor for Idaho service. Morgan was an elementary teacher in McCall before joining NASA’s Teacher in Space program. She flew on the Endeavour space shuttle in 2007. Hecla Mining Co. provided the silver for the medals.
In addition to continuing the state’s multi-year education reform plan, Otter’s 2017-18 budget lays out an additional $10 million to put more technology in schools, raising the proposed appropriation to $28 million, which closes in on the $60 million commitment to expand technology.
Otter also proposes a 16 percent increase to $7 million the amount available to students to help them prepare for college by paying for dual credit classes and advance placement tests, which can earn them higher education credit in high school.
School administrators could also get training in how to do teacher job evaluations through a $2.5 million request. Lawmakers are raising questions about the accuracy of teacher evaluations, a key component in teacher raises, following a report in July that showed many of them are not thoroughly completed.
Otter also wants to add onto the number of college and career counselors in high schools encouraging students to get a degree or certificate after graduation. He plans to double the amount of money going to pay for those counselors over this year to $10 million.
The biggest ticket item is no surprise: $58 million to continue improving teacher salaries, which have already received $75 million during the first two years of the school improvement plan.
A broad-based task force of educators, parents, lawmakers and policy makers adopted 20 recommendations for improving education in 2013 that included improving reading, raising student mastery of subjects and more technology in the classroom.
In other areas, Otter’s budget includes:
▪ A proposed cut in the unemployment tax on businesses by 6.3 percent, which Otter said amounted to $46 million in savings to businesses.
House Speaker Scott Bedke said that’s “a large tax reduction to the businesses of Idaho. I however feel like we can do a little better than that, and I expect there will be legislation that will support that belief coming out of the house.”
House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, said he was “concerned about this budget. It’s about a 9 percent increase over last year. That’s a lot of money. I think that we can give a little bit back and we’ll try to come up with some kind of reasonable tax relief.”
▪ No additional funds for Idaho transportation. Otter’s position is that money for highways come from a dedicated stream based on user fees such as fuel taxes and licensing. He repeated that Monday, saying he is a “user-pay guy.”
Moyle said the House might move to extend a soon-to-expire annual transfer of end-of-year surplus to fund roads and bridges. Otter has opposed that, but would not say Monday if he would veto the move it the Legislature passes it.
▪ $250,000, the first state money, to help the Forest Service set up timber sales as a part of the 2014 Farm Bill’s Good Neighbor Program. The state auctioned off the first timber sale on the Clearwater-Nez Perce National Forest in September after using federal and other funds to hire foresters in 2016. The state already has begun to expand the program into the Payette and Panhandle national forests.
▪ $11.2 million for felony probation and parole offender treatment for the mental health needs of some 7,400 moderate to high risk offenders to prevent recidivism. $2.25 million for 24 new senior probation and parole officers.
▪ $8.3 million to match expected federal funds for a new veterans cemetery in eastern Idaho
▪ $1.1 million for and five positions for renovated state history museum to open in FY 2018.
▪ $5 million more for workforce development training through Department of Labor, and $3 million in opportunity fund grants for public infrastructure improvements that attract business.
▪ $11 million for a new 16-bed adolescent treatment hospital in the Treasure Valley, dubbed State Hospital West, and subsequent conversion of the former adolescent wing of State Hospital South in Blackfoot into a 20-bed high-risk adult psych unit. $1.5 million for full-year funding of community crisis behavioral health centers in Twin Falls and Boise. $4.8 million and 18 position in “Jeff D” settlement compliance.
Rocky Barker contributed.