Sherri Ybarra, Idaho’s Superintendent of Public Instruction pitched her public-school budgeting request to the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee by addressing students' learning setbacks through the Covid-19 Pandemic.

“I believe the impact of the pandemic on student progress will be felt for many years,” said Superintendent Ybarra. “Those impacts continue with staff shortages dogging Idaho schools for everyone from teachers and substitutes to bus drivers and cafeteria workers.”

Ybarra recognized the many people involved in this budget request who understand the importance of strategic investments in their school systems while still dealing with the pandemic.

“I am here to advocate for additional investments in education, given the record surplus that we are fortunate to have as Idahoans this year,” Ybarra said.

Ybarra’s budget request consisted of both new and old programs, stating that her top priority, is a $39.3 million all-day kindergarten program, offered to at-risk students across the state.

“My top priority for the 2022 legislative session is to provide the option of full-day kindergarten for at-risk students across our state,” she said.

In addition, Ybarra wants an additional $3.3 million to expand the advanced opportunity programs that cover dual-credit courses, as well as a request to increase salaries and benefits for teachers, administration and staff. Ybarra expressed her gratitude to the teachers and staff in the Idaho School Systems during this pandemic and was impressed with the adjustments to create a new normal.

“Idaho’s schools have done a tremendous job of making the necessary adjustments and getting kids back on their routine. They’ve pivoted from waiting until the pandemic ends to operating under what we call a new normal,” she said.

She continued by highlighting this year's teacher of the year, Mr. Todd Knight, a teacher at Crossroads Middle School, whom Ybarra stated as an “Amazing educator.” Mr. Knight quoted that “I do not teach science, rather use science to teach critical skills students will use and need for the rest of their lives.”

Ybarra expressed the importance of in-person learning and how closing schools for long periods of time affected students and staff in a negative way.

“While I’m not second-guessing the decisions that were made early in the pandemic,” she said, “I strongly believe that closing schools for a long period hurts our kids and we should never do that again, whatever it takes to stay open, we must be flexible, and in-person learning must be the number one choice. It is not an afterthought; it is not secondary.”

Ybarra is pleased with Gov. Little for approving her proposal for $1,000 bonuses for every teacher from federal Covid aid funds last year, and aligning with the budget request Ybarra is pushing for.

“The Governor and I, we align. He and I are on the same page, on the same line,” Ybarra said.

Most Idaho public schools are open and are operating, Ybarra said, despite the urgent staffing shortage throughout the state. Teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria staff are all valuable paraprofessionals Idaho needs to progress.

Superintendent Ybarra hopes that the committee sees that “education investments will keep Idaho’s economy the ‘envy’ of the nation and that education has been and continues to be a top priority.”

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