- Associated Press - Thursday, September 1, 2016

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Idaho’s top schools chief says she wants a 6.6 percent increase in education spending for 2017, requesting more money for teacher salaries and literacy improvement.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra released her plan Thursday. In it, Idaho’s public school funding is $104.7 million more than what lawmakers allocated this year.

The Idaho Legislature has approved 7.4 percent budget increases for school funding over the last two years. Ybarra’s latest plan is the lowest budget proposal since 2014, when former state Superintendent Tom Luna requested a 5.1 percent bump.

“With this request, we address the classified staff salary gap, which in turn can have a positive impact on retention, the climate and culture of local school districts, and also begin to provide districts the resources to ‘grow their own’ in identifying qualified and knowledgeable educators to address the shortage,” Ybarra said in a prepared statement.

Ybarra’s spokesman Jeff Church says that the superintendent worked with a variety of lawmakers and educators to agree on a sum that properly addresses Idaho’s education needs while being fiscally responsible.

“I wouldn’t say it’s low,” he said. “I would say it’s a good number and supportive of education.”

The proposal now goes before Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, legislative leadership and other stakeholders for review before the 2017 Legislature kicks off in January. Otter will also submit his own education budget for legislative consideration.

A key feature of Ybarra’s budget is more teacher salary funding which is in its third year of the state’s five year plan to boost school employee pay. Ybarra wants $137.5 million for teacher salaries, which would boost pay for new teachers to $34,600 a year.

For operational funds, Ybarra requested $26,467 per classroom to be used at their own discretion - a coveted fund that school districts have requested more of ever since it was slashed during the economic downturn.

Additionally, Ybarra is once again requesting $300,000 for a pilot project that would provide resources to rural schools in northern Idaho. A similar proposal passed the Idaho House after lengthy debate earlier this year, but failed to receive a hearing in the Idaho Senate.

The project is one of only a handful of new line items in Ybarra’s budget. Last year, the superintendent had 11 new line items.

Other budget highlights:

- $7.9 million for a recently enacted literacy proficiency initiative.

- $2 million for college and career advisers and student mentors.

- $8 million for technology for local school districts.

- $11 million to support non-certified staffers like nurses, bus drivers, secretaries and food service workers.

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