The Idaho Legislature's work is done, and this year's legislative session included many positive highlights for Idaho education, from a historic increase in funding and a number of bills addressing recommendations to the Task Force for Improving Education.
Public Schools Budget
The Public Schools Budget is a capstone of the things we've been working on for many years. It takes us to a teacher compensation model where a portion is based on performance. It expands opportunities for students to get a jump start on college or other postsecondary educational opportunities. It heavily emphasizes technology in the classroom, the demand for which we're unable to keep up with.
The budget is a 5.1 percent–or $66.2 million–increase over last year. That brings us back to the funding levels we were at in fiscal year 2008. I believe this is a demonstration of the state's commitment to K-12 education and the implementation of the Task Force for Improving Education recommendations.
Idaho teachers will see an increase in compensation in three ways in the upcoming year. First, the budget includes a 1 percent increase in the money that funds teacher base salaries at the local level. Second, minimum teacher salaries will increase to $31,750. Third, through the Leadership Awards portion of the Career Ladder, local school districts will have the ability to award teachers annual bonuses of between $850 and $5,700. These three areas total a 3.8 percent total increase in ongoing funding for teacher compensation.
Restoration of Discretionary Funding
The budget includes $35 million to help restore discretionary funding, the funding local school districts and public charter schools use to pay for utilities, health care and other costs at the district level.
The budget includes $12.15 million for continued professional development for Idaho's teachers. Of this funding, $9.4 million will be distributed to local school districts to use for the implementation of Idaho Core Standards, gifted and talented, or counseling. The remaining $2.7 million will be used at the state level to provide professional development to Idaho's teachers through Idaho Core Coaches in each region.
The budget includes $13.4 million in continued funding for classroom technology. Of this funding, $8 million will be distributed to local school districts to spend on integrating technology in the classroom, $2.25 million will continue to be spent on wireless infrastructure for Idaho's high schools, $3 million has been set aside for a second year of technology pilot projects in Idaho's public schools, and $150,000 will be used for the online course portal.
Content and Curriculum
The budget includes $4 million in one-time money that will be distributed to local school districts that they can use to purchase instructional content and curriculum that are in hard copy or digital formats.
Task Force Recommendations
In addition to the budget, the Legislature also approved key pieces of legislation to advance the Task Force recommendations.
Senate Bill 1233 increases advanced opportunities for Idaho's high school students by providing high school juniors up to $200 and high school seniors up to $400 to pay for dual credit courses and Advanced Placement or professional certificate examinations.
House Bill 504 creates leadership awards for teachers who serve in leadership roles, such as mentoring new teachers, providing professional development, teaching dual credit courses, and more. These awards will range from $850 to $5,838 and be determined by the local school board. This is the first step in the Task Force's recommendation to create a career ladder to compensate educators.
House Bill 521 directs local school districts to develop a strategic plan that focuses on improving student performance.
Although the process and the pathway have been difficult at times, we remain focused on our ultimate goal: to prepare students to be successful in life after they graduate from high school. I am very pleased with the progress we made toward that goal this legislative session.