Despite Gov. Butch Otter’s call for only a 2 percent increase in K-12 education funding for the next fiscal year, Idaho’s public schools are in store for a slightly bigger funding increase.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna said Monday that the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) has approved a 2.2 percent increase in school funding above the current fiscal year’s allocation. “This is the second year in a row that we’ve been able to increase our funding, and we’re pleased about this,” Luna said.
If approved by the Legislature, public schools would receive $1.3 billion for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2013.
The funding increase includes $13.4 million for classroom technology, $3.75 million for Idaho Core professional development funding for teachers and an increase in teachers’ minimum salary from $30,500 to $31,000 a year.
“Our budget places a very heavy focus on teacher compensation,” Luna said at a press conference Monday. “We’ve restored those steps on the salary grid that have been frozen for some time, and that has been a priority for us.”
Luna discussed at length the funding increase for educational technology. “The funding for technology is absolutely critical, and I believe that the proper use of technology will allow us to provide equal access to quality education across the state,” he stated. “Equal opportunity in education is not a money issue right now, so much as it is an access issue. In some regions of our state, you’re just simply not going to find a calculus teacher or a science teacher, and technology will allow this to happen.
Luna’s budget also provides state funds for students to take achievement and assessment tests, including the Scholastic Aptitude Test (the SAT, frequently used by colleges and universities as a measurement of college readiness), the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT) and the End Of Course (EOC) test.
“We’ve budgeted about $900,000 to allow students to take these tests,” he stated. “We do a good job at getting students graduated from high school in Idaho, but we’re always looking for ways to improve the rate at which students go on to college, and we believe that providing the funding for these exams will improve that.”
Currently, individual students and families pay approximately $70 per SAT and PSAT exam.
Luna’s budget also provides funding for high school students to concurrently complete college credit. “Students will be able to earn up to 36 college credits before they graduate from high school, and we believe this is a very good thing,” he noted.
During the press conference, Luna was asked about the impact of the federal government’s sequestration on Idaho school funding.
“It will have zero impact on us,” Luna responded. “We’ve still got federal education funds that were appropriated to Idaho for fiscal years 2011 and 2012 that we haven’t yet used, and we are not concerned about funding for the current fiscal year.”
IdahoReporter.com asked Luna about the recent announcement that some schools and school districts in Idaho have chosen to launch their own online education pilot program, with a nationwide organization called the Khan Academy.
A nationwide nonprofit education program that delivers educational content to K-12 students via the Internet, the Khan Academy was founded in 2006 by 36-year old Salman Khan, a Harvard and MIT graduate from New Orleans. Last Friday, 47 schools across Idaho announced that they were partnering with the Khan Academy for the nation’s first-ever statewide pilot program with the organization.
“I have heard about some Idaho schools teaming up with them,” he noted. “I think that shows us that the utilization of education technology really is a grassroots thing, and local schools and teachers and parents and school board members are going to embrace it as they need it. This is a good thing, and a healthy thing, and it’s not going away, but at the state level we can encourage it.”
A total of 47 schools, including traditional district schools, public charter schools and some private schools will begin with the Khan Academy pilot program next year. It is estimated that more than 10,000 students will participate in the program.