Five Percent Budget Increase for Schools

Tom Luna

By Tom Luna
Idaho State Superintendent of Public Instruction

In the last edition of EdSource, I spoke about the preliminary budget request I submitted to the Governor in September.

Now, four months later, I have presented my formal request for funding for Idaho's public schools to the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee (JFAC). This budget request mirrors the preliminary request I submitted in September, with a few minor but important changes that include recommendations from the Technology Task Force and ensure the budget is in line with current revenue projections.

For the first time in years, I am excited we are facing a budget surplus. As the Governor and Legislature committed, our public schools will be the first to receive these surplus dollars.

I have requested a 4.7 percent increase in state funding for Idaho schools, which is in line with the Governor's budget recommendation.

Here are the highlights of where additional money will be spent:

First, we will address salaries for teachers and administrators.

This budget provides full funding for movement on the salary grid.

This means, for the second year in a row, many teachers will see salary increases of between 3.75 percent and 7.6 percent if they gain another year of experience and more education credits.

Importantly, this budget also fully funds the provisions of Students Come First without reducing the funding the state provides for teacher and administrator salaries. This funding is known as salary-based apportionment.

Last legislative session, we put forward a plan to spend the money we currently have differently. As a part of that approach, the current law plans to reallocate 2.38 percent of salary-based apportionment in FY 2013. However, I always said we would backfill this shift in salary-based apportionment as soon as revenues were available. The uptick in this year's economy allows us to follow through on this commitment. As a result, there will be no decrease in state funding for teacher salaries in the coming year.

Instead, the state would provide the same amount for teacher base salaries, and, in addition, teachers will now have the opportunity to earn up to $8,000 in pay-for-performance bonuses. No money will be taken from salary-based apportionment to fund this bonus system.

In fact, with the additional $38.8 million for pay-for-performance awards, we will see a 5 percent increase in state funding for teacher compensation.

These bonuses are not just for a few. We estimate that at least 85 percent of teachers will earn a pay-for-performance bonus in the coming year.

Second, the state will provide historic funding for classroom technology.

This year and in future years, the state will continue to provide funding for advanced classroom technology, which is available for use in all K-12 grade levels. This is distinct from the one-to-one mobile computing device program that Idaho is implementing in its high schools.

For the second year in a row, approximately $9 million will be available to update technology in our schools and provide a 21st century classroom learning environment. Districts submit plans for their use of classroom technology, which are then approved and funded by the state. This gives local stakeholders the power to incorporate the technology that best suits the needs of their local students and teachers.

In addition, in September, the state will begin implementing the one-to-one ratio of mobile computing devices to students and teachers in every high school by first deploying devices to teachers and other certified staff at the school level. As recommended by the Technology Task Force, the device will be a laptop and will include the necessary software, security, maintenance and technical support every teacher needs to integrate this technology effectively, all paid for by the state.

Classroom technology will also allow teachers to take full advantage of the high-speed internet access that the Idaho Education Network has now brought to every high school in the state.

Third, the state will make an unprecedented investment in professional development for teachers.

Idaho will provide nearly $4 million per year in funding for professional development to ensure that classroom teachers have the training and support they need to integrate technology in the classroom, whether it is mobile computing devices or interactive whiteboards. Technology is a critical tool of the 21st Century Classroom, but it is just that: a tool. To ensure it is implemented successfully and that every student has access to the best educational opportunities, we must provide heavy doses of professional development to all our classroom teachers. This professional development will focus on how to successfully integrate classroom technology in the learning process.

In keeping with the recommendations of the Technology Task Force's Classroom Technology subcommittee, led by Idaho's 2011 Teacher of the Year Stefani Cook, the state is also developing a multi-year, comprehensive professional development plan.

In this plan, the state will use a blended model that combines both face-to-face and online methods of professional development for teachers, administrators and technology coordinators.

First, we will establish regional training teams of administrators, teachers and technology coordinators to provide professional development and support to schools in implementing classroom technology at all grade levels.

Stipends will be made available for these team members.

Next, the state will identify a lead teacher and technology coordinator at every high school who will not only learn how to integrate one-to-one devices and other classroom technology effectively, but will become in-house experts and take the lead in providing training to other teachers in their building.

Stipends will also be made available for these in-house experts.

Professional development is a key focus of the Students Come First reforms. We recognize that a highly effective teacher is the most important classroom factor in student success. The goal of Students Come First is to empower great teachers with the training, support, and tools they need to engage and prepare a new generation of learners.

Fourth, the state makes these investments in teachers while still funding other important education efforts.

This budget increases the money for teacher compensation and invests like never before in teacher training while increasing opportunities for our students and supporting our schools.

In this budget, I have requested a discretionary fund increase of 2 percent to give our local districts more money to spend on specific areas of need.

This request includes $2.5 million for additional IT professionals, per the recommendations of the Technology Task Force, to support the effective integration of technology into teaching and learning.

The budget also includes funding for dual credit opportunities for students who finish their state graduation requirements early, giving students a jumpstart on college and easing the financial burden that is sometimes a disincentive to pursue postsecondary education.

The budget pays for all Idaho juniors to take the SAT or ACCUPLACER exams, to encourage them to continue their education after high school and to identify areas where they need to improve to successfully do that. The budget also funds the state's increased graduation requirements and includes ongoing funding for the Math Initiative, Reading Initiative, students who need remediation, and LEP students.

With these components, I believe this budget request accomplishes the goals set by all of Idaho's educational stakeholders. It fully funds teacher salaries and benefits and funds movement on the salary grid, while adding an additional 5 percent increase in compensation for performance. It gives all teachers updated and modern classroom tools to help individualize learning and engage every student. It invests in expanded professional development and training to support all teachers across Idaho as they integrate these tools in the classroom.