- Associated Press - Thursday, January 29, 2015

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra says she wants local school officials to decide how money should be spent in the classroom.

During her first budget presentation to the Legislature on Thursday morning, Ybarra said she hadn’t yet determined exactly how funds for some of her biggest policy initiatives would be spent. Instead, Ybarra said, she wanted to figure out those details once she saw just how much money the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee budgets for each line item.

Overall, Ybarra is asking for $87.3 million more for public schools, a 6.4 percent increase over last year’s $1.37 billion total. Her proposal also shifts more than $18.7 million to operations, much of that money coming from professional development programs for teachers and other school officials. That would bring the total amount of discretionary spending for operations allotted to local school districts and charter schools to about $28 million. Local authorities would be able to spend that money on textbooks, classroom supplies, professional development programs or whatever else they need most, Ybarra said.

Her proposal was significantly different from the recommendation of Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, who asked for a 7.4 percent increase of about $101 million, including more money earmarked for professional development funding.

Ybarra is asking for $25 million for a teacher career ladder pilot program. Legislation to create the career ladder will be handled separately in the House and Senate education committees, so the details have yet to be determined. The program is intended to help boost the salaries of teachers as they become more experienced in an effort to improve career longevity in Idaho.

Her schools budget presentation - which lasted about 10 minutes - prompted questions from lawmakers seeking more detail.

Sen. Steven Thayn, a Republican from Emmett, questioned how Ybarra’s proposed increase for a teacher career ladder would be distributed among schools.

“We’re still working that out,” Ybarra responded. The four-year pilot project would start in nine school districts and one charter school, and eventually expand statewide, she said.

She also wanted to put a cap on classroom sizes for kindergarten and first through third grades. Ybarra didn’t say just how many students would be allowed in each class under the cap, but noted that when teachers are faced with 30 kids in a classroom, they may spend more time on “crowd control” than teaching.

Coeur d’Alene Republican Rep. Luke Malek wanted to know how much a classroom cap would cost the state.

Again, that depends on how much funding the budget-writers grant overall, Ybarra said.

“But just throwing a number out there … I imagine it’s going to be anywhere from $3 million to $5 million a year,” Ybarra said.

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