The Legislature has wrapped up its work for another year, and when asked to grade how things went, Governor Otter gave the legislative session an AA+ score. (He was juxtaposing the grade with Idaho's credit rating.) There were many highlights for education this legislative session. Here's a rundown:
While there were some delays along the way, the Legislature approved a 2.2 percent increase in state funding for Idaho's public schools next year. This is the third year in a row the state has increased funding for Idaho's public schools following the great recession.
The budget includes a number of increases to teacher compensation. It buys back both years of the experience portion of the salary grid that was frozen during the recession, restores the 1.67 percent that was shifted in 2011, and increases the minimum teacher salary from $30,500 to $31,000. Additionally, there is a line item of $21 million for local districts to spend on professional development and differential pay plans developed at the local level.
On the technology front, the Legislature approved $10.4 million for classroom technology. The majority of these funds will be sent to districts through a formula, similar to recent years, to choose what classroom technology to purchase. Approximately $2.3 million will be used to create wireless learning environments in every high school. In addition, an estimated $3 million will be awarded through a competitive grant process to districts for technology pilot projects.
"There's a heavy focus on teacher compensation and a heavy focus on technology. I think that those are important," Superintendent Luna said after the JFAC budget-setting meeting.
In addition, the Legislature also appropriated $3.75 million for professional development for Idaho teachers as they implement the Idaho Core Standards (Common Core State Standards). The State Department of Education plans to use this funding to offer continued professional development opportunities for mathematics and English language arts teachers statewide, provide ongoing regional support for schools, and foster higher education partnerships. The Department is setting up focus groups to get feedback on this plan and make adjustments, as necessary. Other highlights of the budget include $4.85 million for additional math and science teachers to help meet new high school graduation requirements; $10.5 million for technical assistance to non-Title I schools that are rated as One- and Two-star schools, remediation, the Idaho Reading Initiative, and the Idaho Math Initiative; and a 1.5 percent increase in discretionary funds. The appropriation also includes funding for National Board Certification awards, the Dual Credit for Early Completers Program, Schoolnet professional development, the School Safety Task Force, building maintenance, and sophomores to voluntarily take the PSAT.
The public schools budget makes up approximately 47 percent of the state's spending and totals more than $1.3 billion.
The State Department also successfully ran a number of pieces of legislation. Two of the major bills were additional math and science funding and unfreezing movement for educational attainment on the salary grid.
The first bill reinstated the statutory authority for additional funding for math and science teachers. The formula funding was initially included as part of the Students Come First laws, which were repealed in November 2012. Therefore, it was necessary to reinstate the formula in law to reinstate the funding.
Second, the State Department of Education ran legislation to unfreeze movement on the state's funding grid for education credits. The grid was frozen for one year during the Great Recession. It was then unfrozen under the Students Come First laws, but the repeal of the laws through Proposition 3 reinstated the freeze in November 2012. The passage of this legislation repeals the freeze permanently and allows school districts to receive full state funding – approximately $4 million – for college credits earned by their educators.
For a full listing of all the laws passed relating to education, please click here.