BOISE - Public schools chief Tom Luna detailed Thursday a proposed budget for next year that increases teacher base pay by $14.8 million, restoring the last of funding that was being shifted from salaries to help pay for his education overhaul.
Overall, Luna's budget funds the reform package while boosting state spending on Idaho schools by $64.5 million next year, with most of that money going toward compensation, he said during a meeting with reporters in his downtown Boise office.
"This fully funds the Student Come First programs and also makes considerable inroads into bringing up teacher compensation," Luna said.
School superintendents in Kootenai County's two largest districts are pleased with Luna's proposal.
In Post Falls, Jerry Keane said that if approved, the plan will help his district recover from several years of budget cuts. The state funding appropriation to the Post Falls School District has been cut by $3.6 million since 2009.
"As the state restores more of the funding needed to run our schools, our reliance on our local property taxpayers can be reduced," said Coeur d'Alene Superintendent Hazel Bauman. "We are grateful to our community for their support during these tough economic times and are hopeful that their burden may be reduced if the state can return to former funding levels of K-12 education."
Along with more money for base salaries - which remain below levels established in fiscal year 2009 - teacher paychecks would also get a boost from a $22.6 million increase in funding for merit bonuses that were approved under Luna's reforms in 2011, he said.
With the increase, Luna budgeted $61 million for pay-for-performance next year, when the program will be expanded to allow other school professionals to compete. Also, teachers will be rewarded not only for raising student achievement, but also for taking on hard-to-fill positions or leadership roles.
Luna's budget also includes an $8.4 million increase in funding for laptops that will start going to high school students next year. The state is already spending $2.5 million to give teachers the devices this year under the reforms, which go before voters in November.
Critics succeeded last summer in getting repeal measures on the ballot, decrying the sweeping changes that limited teacher collective bargaining and introduced merit pay while phasing in laptops and making online courses a graduation requirement.
The reforms initially called for shifting money from salaries to help fund the changes. While lawmakers eliminated further deductions in the 2012 session, an initial withdrawal of more than $14 million remained. Luna's proposed budget, based on feedback from various education groups, would eliminate that deduction next year, he said.
"That was a common request," Luna said.
The state Department of Education and other state agencies typically submit budget proposals in September for the next fiscal year, which doesn't start until July 1. Gov. Butch Otter reviews those proposals before making spending recommendations in his State of the State speech in January.
Luna has often said predicting Idaho's economy is tough in a good year and even more difficult in bad times. His budget recommendation includes a 5 percent increase for public schools next year, following a 4.6 percent increase in state general funding this fiscal year.
Staff writer Maureen Dolan contributed to this report.
Other budget items for schools:
n $1.4 million for a program that helps students finish high school early so they can get a head start on their college credits.
n $6.2 million to unfreeze one year of the pay grid that compensates teachers for experience.
n $1 million in increased funding for school districts to beef up their technical support staffs.
n $1.1 million in increased funding for remediation, math and reading initiatives and to help districts implement the state's new accountability system.