Budget writers OK 5.1% increase in Idaho public schools funding

Budget writers OK 5.1% increase in Idaho public schools funding
BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) -- It's been awhile since state lawmakers were able to crack a smile after setting the budget for Idaho's public schools.

But on Monday, the Joint Finance Appropriation Committee (JFAC) signed off on an education budget that calls for a $66 million increase in public school funding, a 5.1 percent increase over last fiscal year.

And there's a teacher pay raise, to boot.

"It's a beautiful budget," said Rep. Maxine Bell, (R) Jerome, JFAC co-chair.

"It focuses in the right areas," said State Schools Superintendent Tom Luna, "not just putting more money in, but making sure it's focusing on performance pay for teachers, discretionary spending, students earning dual credits, a heavy focus on technology."

To be formally adopted, the budget must still clear the House and Senate, then go to the governor's desk for consideration.

Here are highlights of the FY2015 Public Schools Budget approved in the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, provided by Supt. Luna's office:

· The budget is $1.374 billion in general funds for Idaho public schools in fiscal year 2015, a 5.1 percent or $66.2 million increase over fiscal year 2014.

· Teacher Compensation: The budget includes a 3.8 percent total increase in ongoing funding for teacher compensation, which includes $15.8 million to fund the Leadership Awards portion of the Career Ladder Compensation Model for Idaho's teachers developed by the Task Force, a 1 percent increase in the money that funds teacher salaries at the local level, and funds to increase minimum teacher salaries to $31,750.

· Discretionary Funding: The budget includes $35 million in discretionary funding for local school districts and public charter schools. Districts use this funding to pay for utilities, health care and other costs at the district level.

· Professional Development: The budget includes $12.15 million for continued professional development for Idaho's teachers. Of this funding, $9.4 million will be distributed to local school districts to use for the implementation of Idaho Core Standards, gifted and talented, or counseling. The remaining $2.7 million will be used at the state level to provide professional development to Idaho's teachers through Idaho Core Coaches in each region.

· Classroom Technology: The budget includes $13.4 million in continued funding for classroom technology. Of this funding, $8 million will be distributed to local school districts to spend on integrating technology in the classroom, $2.25 million will continue to be spent on wireless infrastructure for Idaho's high schools, $3 million has been set aside for a second year of technology pilot projects in Idaho's public schools, and $150,000 will be used for the online course portal.

· School Safety and Security: The budget includes $2.2 million in funding to be distributed directly to local school districts to invest in Safe and Drug-Free School Programs at the local level.

· Content and Curriculum: The budget includes $4 million in one-time money that will be distributed to local school districts that they can use to purchase instructional content and curriculum that are in hard copy or digital formats.