BOISE -- Gov. Brad Little delivered his second State of the State address Monday, Jan. 6, highlighting past achievements and calling for increased education spending amid an otherwise lean budget year. The governor’s proposed budget calls for improved K-3 literacy, increased teacher salaries, and investments in specific higher education programs.
After thanking the legislature for their commitments to public education last year, Little called for additional funding to support his signature issue, K-3 literacy and reading proficiency. School districts used last year’s funding for a variety of projects, from monthly student assessments to summer reading programs. This year’s budget recommends a $3.2 million increase for these efforts to ensure students are reading at grade level by the end of third grade.
Little’s budget also provides funding for training and resources to help teachers address social and emotional issues in their students such as trauma and mental illness. This was one of several recommendations made last year by the governor’s education task force.
Another task force recommendation was improving salaries to help retain effective teachers. Last year, the legislature approved funding to increase beginning teacher salaries to $40,000. This year’s budget proposal calls for $7.7 million to sustain that increase, as well as $30 million to improve pay for more experienced educators.
In a Q&A after the address, Little pointed out that increased funding for teacher pay could help alleviate supplemental levy burdens in border regions that have to compete with higher teacher salaries in neighboring states.
In the Republican Caucus response to the speech, House Speaker Scott Bedke (R-Oakley) was less enthusiastic about the increased funding for higher rungs of the teacher salary career ladder. Just as school districts were able to make choices on how to spend their literacy funding, Bedke said, he would like to see similar flexibility in the funding for increased teacher pay.
Bedke found that in conversations with administrators in his home district, the existing school funding formula undercompensates school districts for expenses such as support staff and transportation, which negatively impacts their ability to pay teachers.
“We’ve got to have great teachers in our classrooms, and how we do that maybe changes district to district,” Bedke said. With adjustments to the formula, school districts “could quit robbing Peter to pay Paul and then have money to address our teacher retention issues.”
Democratic leadership pointed out that Little’s budget does not fund statewide all-day kindergarten, which was another of the education task force’s recommendations.
Little’s address shifted the focus to career readiness as students proceed through the state education system. The governor’s budget provides another $2 million for the Advanced Opportunities Program, which pays for high school students to receive college credit through advanced placement exams and dual-credit courses. The proposal also calls for a $7 million increase in the Idaho Opportunity Scholarship.
Little has plans to develop a joint cybersecurity degree offered by Boise State University, Idaho State University, and the University of Idaho. The proposed budget also recommends $6 million to fund construction of new career and technical education (CTE) facilities at the College of Eastern Idaho, Lewis-Clark State College and the Department of Juvenile Corrections.
“I have directed our universities, community colleges, and the State Board of Education to adopt a fresh, bold approach,” the governor said, “by breaking down silos and working together as a more interconnected higher education system.”
Other topics covered in the governor’s address included his cuts to administrative rules, improving statewide broadband access, grocery tax relief, and decreasing prison recidivism.