The public school budget for Idaho was recently set by lawmakers at $1.48 billion, which included Governor Butch Otter’s appeal for a 7.4% increase and full funding for the first year of a five-year plan to increase salaries for teachers in the state.
The increase was approved by the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee. The proposal still needs to pass both chambers, although it is expected to be approved.
The increase in teacher pay will mean that teachers in the state will go from earning $31,750 a year to $32,700. In addition, $16.1 million was approved by the committee for teacher bonuses. “This has been a long work in process and it shows,” said Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, co-chair of the powerful budget committee.
Finalization of the schools budget, which makes up about 50% of the general funds for the state, has been on hold until the teacher pay bill could also be finalized.
Funding was slashed in 2009 when the economy took a downturn. This happened directly following the passing of one of the highest education budgets in the state’s history.
Since that time, lawmakers have promised to boost education funding back to its previous levels, although they have been hesitant to add too much at once.
The slow rebuilding of the budget has received much criticism from Democratic members of the Senate, who believe the budget should be even larger.
For example, two Democrats argued for an even larger boost to this year’s budget of 9.3%, which added more operational funding money for schools to use at their own discretion.
The pair said that because student enrollment has grown so much, school funding in the state is still not where it was in 2009. “No district ought to have a four-day week in the 21st century because of lack of funding,” said Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise.
However, others believe a four-day week is not a bad thing.
“Although there are people that have concerns about that, also having one of those districts in my legislative district, the majority of the community has come to see some advantages to that for teachers and teacher preparation time, for students and the opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities… and it really has ended up being embraced,” said Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint.
While the state had only 19 schools with a four-day school week in 2007, that number has increased to 54 schools across 14 school districts, according to Idaho Education News.