Debbie Critchfield

Debbie Critchfield

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"This truly is a wonderful day," said state Board of Education President Debbie Critchfield, as she joined Gov. Brad Little to announce that the state will make up the $99 million in cuts to the public school budget it's imposed this year, plus set aside $50 million in aid funds for families of Idaho schoolchildren. The new funding will benefit schools, teachers and families, she said.

"There's been a lot of bending and adapting as the circumstances have changed," she said. With the funds, parents will be able to evaluate their technological needs and make the right decisions for their families, Critchfield said.

"It's no secret that this has been a real challenging time for our schools, for our parents and for our educators," said state schools Superintendent Sherri Ybarra. She thanked Little for making education top-priority. "It's been tough enough, but again, it just feels like an exciting day, turning a corner and moving into the school year with a governor who really has had his eye on education. As your superintendent of public instruction, a huge thank-you out to him." She added, "It couldn't have come at a better time."

Gov. Brad Little said the funds for families are expected to help roughly 30,000 Idaho students. Critchfield said those would include public school students along with private and virtual school students, and there would be a needs-based component to eligibility; payments would begin in October.

“The hope is to start with needs-based and then have it phased in according to a level of income,” Critchfield said. It would reach only a small portion of Idaho’s students, she acknowledged. “We wish that there was more, but … believe a really substantial start into helping some of our most vulnerable families.”

Critchfield and Ybarra said the funds would make up all the cuts to line items in the public school budget, including the $26 million cut from teacher salaries as part of freezing the teacher career ladder. However, all the funds would go out to school districts as discretionary funds, leaving it up to the districts as to how to spend them; normally, the career ladder funds would be disbursed to school districts as part of salary-based apportionment allocations.

Ybarra said she's requesting the career ladder be unfrozen in the next budget year, which starts next July 1.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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