IEA Hotline—January 15, 2021
IEA Responds to Gov. Little’s Budget as 2021 Session Gets Underway
The unique 2021 legislative session kicked off Monday with the annual State of the State Address from Gov. Brad Little. The governor shared his plans for the $600 million budget surplus, which includes more than $450 million in tax cuts, both one-time and permanent, and $120 million for transportation infrastructure.
As far as public education is concerned, Gov. Little proposes restoration of the funding lost to the five percent holdback earlier this year, including putting funding back into the Career Ladder salary allocation structure and the Advanced Professional Educator pay law passed during the last session. In a response to the governor’s proposal, IEA President Layne McInelly said the budget hits on some important elements, such as increasing veteran teacher compensation but fails to move the needle much for a state that remains dead last in per-student funding.
“Governor Little’s budget proposal checks some important boxes, but it lacks the bold vision and initiative Idaho students deserve. Idaho’s prosperous economy, a budget surplus of more than $600 million, and a growing population make this an ideal time to show true commitment to our students, schools, and professional educators.
The restoration of funds cut through Gov. Little’s emergency holdback and funding growth in the Career Ladder to increase compensation for veteran teachers are certainly positive steps. So are his commitment to Advanced Opportunities, early childhood literacy, and the concept of establishing a mental health support structure in rural schools. Increasing broadband capability will also be a big help to students and schools. However, Idaho remains 51st out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia in per-student funding. Insufficient state funding leads to record amounts of local levies year after year, which puts the property tax burden back on local communities and creates significant inequities in opportunity and access.
Personnel shortages and class sizes have been brought to the forefront by the pandemic. Idaho schools are dealing with a shortfall of personnel—not just teachers, but counselors, nurses, paraprofessionals, custodial staff, transportation workers, and the myriad of staff who contribute to the education and growth of our children. Support staff frequently work for subsistence wages and this budget ensures them another year of acute poverty.”
The budget proposals presented by Gov. Little and Superintendent Sherri Ybarra are the starting point for the education funding process. The Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee (JFAC) will set a budget to be voted on by both chambers of the legislature.
Idaho’s Average Teacher Salary Decreased by Almost $900 in 2020-21
During a time when educator workload and stress increased dramatically due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the average teacher salary in Idaho actually fell by nearly $900. Read more in this story by Devin Bodkin of Idaho Education News.
Educators Prioritized for Vaccines, but Supply and Rollout are Inconsistent
The biggest key to getting all students and educators back in classrooms full-time is COVID-19 vaccinations. Gov. Little announced this week that teachers and support staff are in the latest group to be prioritized for the vaccine. In some areas of the state and with some medical providers, the rollout flowing smoothly and educators are able to schedule and receive their vaccinations. As noted in this story from KBOI-TV however, Central District Health says that “demand far exceeds supply” in the counties they oversee.
House Votes Against Allowing Remote Voting
The Idaho House of Representatives has voted along party lines not to allow representatives with health conditions that could be compromised by COVID-19 to participate in the session remotely. Rep. Muffy Davis, D-Ketchum, who was paralyzed in a skiing accident and has concerns about the safety of the legislative environment, had asked to be able to vote and participate in this session remotely. KTVB-TV has a story with more details.
Two lawsuits have also been filed in federal court over the legislature’s alleged failure to provide a safe environment for those conducting business at the statehouse. Read more in this story from Boise State Public Radio.
The status of remote testimony options for House committees during this session remains unclear.
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