Otter calls for 7.9 percent increase in education funding
Clark Corbin, Idaho Education News
BOISE — Describing education as the state’s most pressing priority, Gov. Butch Otter on Monday called for increasing K-12 spending by 7.9 percent next year.
In connection with his annual State of the State address, Otter laid out a series of budget recommendations that called for increasing public school funding by $116.6 million.
“We are entrusted with the singular constitutional responsibility of providing for a ‘general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common school’ throughout Idaho,” Otter said. “Frankly, I’m convinced we would see this as our highest priority even if it wasn’t in our Constitution.”
While Otter called for bumping school spending by 7.9 percent, he proposed increasing overall general funding spending by a slightly smaller clip — 7.3 percent.
His total budget lays out $3.29 billion in general fund spending recommendations.
“We made promises during the Great Recession that we are duty-bound to fulfill,” Otter said. “We have priorities for Idaho’s future that require world-class K-12 schools and an advanced, responsive postsecondary education system.
“And, now, we have the financial means,” Otter continued.
In the fall, Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra recommended increasing public school spending by 7.5 percent, or $110 million. Otter’s budget recommendation would increase K-12 spending by $116.6 million.
One of the major initiatives Otter rolled out during his speech was a literacy proficiency program designed to improve the reading skills of students in kindergarten through third grade.
“Let me impress upon you once again the urgent need to address the cornerstone of successful lifelong learning — reading proficiency,” Otter said. “That will improve the chances for more Idaho students to succeed through high school and beyond.”
On the higher education front, Otter proposed a “tuition lock” program, which would ensure tuition rates Idaho college students pay as freshmen would remain unchanged throughout four years of college. Students participating in the program would have to meet GPA requirements that would be established by the State Board of Education, Otter’s aides said.
Otter delivered an optimistic, 35-minute speech that was interrupted for applause more than 15 times. The first half of his speech was dominated by education themes and calls to improve student success.
“I’m pleased to report that the state of Idaho is healthy and strong,” Otter said. “The people are optimistic. Our communities are vibrant.”
Highlights of Otter’s budget proposal include:
- $39.9 million more to pay for the second year of funding for the career ladder teacher salary law approved in 2015.
- $10.7 million to launch his new literacy proficiency program. The program would provide funding to pay for optional full-day kindergarten for students who score below “basic” on the Idaho Reading Indicator. It would also provide interventions for other students who post low scores on the IRI test.
- $5 million in ongoing funding for teacher professional development training geared around mentoring new teachers.
- $30 million earmarked for discretionary funding — sometimes called operations funding — to restore recession era cuts. The new funding would bring per-classroom spending levels back to $25,696 a piece, the same level reached in the 2008-09 school year before steep budgets cuts were implemented.
- $5 million for college and career advising designed to help increase the number of young adults who earn college degrees or certificates.
- $10 million for classroom technology.
- $1.1 million to develop a mastery-based system of education in up to 20 school districts. In 2013, Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education recommended the state adopt a mastery-based system of learning that no longer relies on a students spending one year in a given grade level before moving on.
- $2.5 million to assist districts that experience enrollment growth throughout the school year.
- $2.2 million for WiFi internet services.
- $2 million for programs, grants and projects for the STEM Action Center devoted to the areas of science, technology, engineering and math.
- $99,000 for a computer science and coding initiative.
- $10 million for the STEM Education Fund.
This article was originally published at Idaho Education News. It is used here with permission.