Progress, patience and collaboration.
Those were the key buzzwords from the 2014 legislative session when it comes to evaluating the decisions of elected officials pertaining to education funding and policy. After several years of drastic cuts to the public education budget, Idaho legislators took steps toward restoring both operational funds and teacher salaries. They also addressed several other education-related issues and continued to voice support for the recommendations made by the Governor’s Task Force on Improving Education last summer. The Idaho Education Association was at the forefront of the education policy discussion during the session, frequently working in collaboration with the Idaho School Boards Association and the Idaho Association of School Administrators to achieve positive results.
K-12 Education Budget for 2015
Lawmakers approved a one percent increase in base salary allocation for teachers, as the IEA successfully lobbied legislators to disregard the Governor’s proposed budget, which did not include salary increases for professional educators. While this move represents a step in the right direction, base salary allocation is still more than $21 million less than it was in 2009. Legislators also approved $15.8 million in leadership awards, which are viewed as a bridge to the career ladders formula recommended by the Task Force. HB 638 also included $8.25 million for professional development.
Legislators approved $35 million in operational funding to begin restoring an essential piece of the budget that was slashed drastically during the recession. This is also a positive step, but operational funding remains roughly $3,295 less per unit than in 2009. HB 639 also provides $8 million in ongoing funding for classroom technology and $3 million in one-time funding for technology pilot programs.
Also on the technology front, legislators voted to provide $4.8 million to bail out the financially troubled Idaho Education Network. IEN is an invaluable resource for Idaho schools, particularly in rural areas, but the project has not received expected federal funds in nearly a year and faces ongoing litigation.
IEA Bill Protecting Bus Drivers Passes; Potentially Harmful Legislation Stalls
The IEA proposed SB 1232, which protects school bus drivers from civil and criminal liability if they come to the aid of a rider who might be in danger. This bill passed the legislature and was signed into law by Governor Otter. Other legislation supported by the IEA that became law included a bill assuring that the ESP Grievance Law remains in effect, a bill requiring the State Department of Education to collect and report data on class sizes, and extensions of sunset provisions for labor laws that will allow more time to work on long term solutions with education stakeholders.
IEA leaders also lobbied against several bills and were successful in preventing them from moving forward. Among them were bills that would have placed less emphasis on professional practice in evaluating teachers and legislation that would have established $10 million in tax credits to fund private school tuition.
Progress was made during the 2014 legislative session, but much work remains to be done. Patience will be required as the IEA and other stakeholders seeks to further restore funding cuts and implement the Task Force recommendations. Collaboration was a critical part of moving public education reform forward, and the IEA will continue to pursue such opportunities whenever and wherever they are practical. For more on the IEA’s plan for both the short-term and long-range future, please read the leadership letter from President Penni Cyr and Executive Director Robin Nettinga.