Gov. Little Record Education Budget Increase, Local Levies & Leg Preview discussion

Little Recommends Record Education Budget Increase

Governor Brad Little’s proposal for an 11% increase to the state’s K-12 budget is the talk in education circles at the Idaho Statehouse since the legislative session began on Jan. 10. In his annual State of the State address to lawmakers on Monday, he asked lawmakers for approximately $300 million in new money for public schools. The increase would put the state’s education budget over $2 billion for the first time. Budget legislation will come later in the session, so there’s been no real movement on the governor’s proposals just yet — but they have set the tone for education policy discussion so far. Here’s a breakdown of what’s in the budget and any legislative progress made since last week:

Better Pay for Educators— As part of his recommended budget increase, the governor proposed a 10% pay boost for certified employees and a 5% pay increase for classified employees with a two-year deposit on the career ladder to move the top veteran educator salary level to $60,000. In addition to traditional salary bumps, the governor also proposed a one-time, $1,000 pandemic bonus for certified educators, similar to what first responders and health care workers received in previous years. There are already discussions in some quarters about increasing the classified employee pay boost to 10 percent in order to help school districts fill hundreds of statewide vacancies in these essential educator support positions.

Health Care for Educators — Gov. Little’s recommendations include providing roughly an additional $4,000 per employee to local school districts to help offset the costs of offering health care insurance to all district employees. Districts currently receive about $8,500 per employee now. If the increase is approved, the total funding will cover the entire cost of offering health insurance through the state’s health insurance plan. Districts can use the money to pay for health insurance through the state’s coverage plan or elect to use the money to pay for a different coverage plan.

The House will likely consider the proposal on Monday, January 24th so reach out to your representatives and tell them how better insurance and affordable coverage will impact you and your family. You can find who your legislator is HERE.

Early Childhood Education — Gov. Little recommended a $47 million increase in reading intervention resources, the funding school districts often use to offer full-day kindergarten. There’s significant across-the-board support for better kindergarten offerings among lawmakers and education stakeholders, so this legislation is likely to have momentum this session. The IEA and other education stakeholders are working with lawmakers to draft a handful of companion bills that would formalize offerings across the state.

Other Education Legislation — A number of education bills unrelated to Gov. Little’s budget recommendations have begun working their way through the legislative process.

Rep. Lance Clow (R-Twin Falls), chairman of the House Education Committee, introduced two bills last week related to state education standards for English/Language Arts, Math, and Science. One is a House Concurrent Resolution that would reject existing standards in these subjects, which are pending approval. The other bill instructs the State Board of Education to replace the rejected with those drafted by a sub-committee of the House Education Committee over the past two years. In the next two weeks, a hearing on the two pieces of legislation is expected.

Rep. Barbara Ehardt (R-Idaho Falls) introduced legislation that changes how appointments connect to Idaho school boards elections in the case of a recall election. Under the proposed legislation, the board replacement of a trustee recalled by voters or who resigns under the threat of a recall vote must run for re-election in the next election. Or, if the recall or resignation occurs within 90 days of the election, the board seat must remain vacant until the election.

Idaho State School Superintendent Sherri Ybarra presented her proposed education budget to lawmakers on Jan. 17. In it, she recommends an 8.1% increase to education funding overall. This increase includes big investments in pay for teachers and other school employees; a substantial boost in operational funding for school districts; a $3 million increase in “advanced opportunities” funding that pays for students in the 7th grade and up to earn college credit; and $39.3 million to cover the costs of optional full-day kindergarten for all at-risk students. Ybarra also discussed pandemic learning loss during her presentation to the Legislature’s powerful joint budget-setting committee. Here’s one media report about her presentation.

Senate Education Chairman Steven Thayn (R-Emmett) introduced legislation on Monday, Jan. 17, to establish a “self-directed learner designation.” The bill would allow students who can demonstrate that they are self-directed learners greater flexibility in their education. This includes “flexible attendance,” attending school virtually, “extended learning opportunities, and any other agreed-upon learning inside or outside the classroom,” according to the legislation.

Disagreements over a rejected parental rights draft bill led to verbal altercations between a state senator and a candidate for state superintendent that twice involved the Idaho State Police. Introduced in the Senate Education Committee, the proposed legislation was rejected by the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday, Jan. 19, on a 4-4 vote, which prompted the confrontation. Here’s a news item on the incident.

Idaho School Districts Set Another Record for Local Levies

An issue sure to be brought up during the legislative session in relation to state funding for public education is the over-reliance on local levies. Once regarded as supplemental in nature, local levies have now become a necessity for districts’ basic operations. And the inequity created between districts that can pass an adequate local levy versus those that cannot is a constitutional imbalance that Idaho needs to address. As Idaho Education News reported last week, local districts have set a record for the sixth straight year in their reliance on local levies.

In Case You Missed It

On Jan. 8, the IEA also participated in a roundtable discussion previewing the legislative session hosted by Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News. Our Associate Executive Director, Matt Compton, was joined by Quinn Perry of the Idaho School Boards Association and Rod Gramer of Idaho Business for Education. The discussion centered around the expected tone and tenor of the session, the budget surplus, and key issues for public schools like teacher retention and respect.

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