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Idaho schools chief proposes $94M more in education spending, his largest ever increase

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BOISE, Idaho — Idaho's public schools chief sought the largest increase in education spending in his nearly eight-year tenure, with a budget proposal submitted Tuesday that includes more money for teacher salaries and classroom technology.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna requested a 6.9 percent bump that would boost Idaho's public school funding by $94 million in fiscal year 2015. His plan asks for an additional $31 million for teacher salaries and benefits and adds $9 million for classroom technology, among other things.

The proposal will be reviewed by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, legislative leadership and other stakeholders. But because Luna isn't seeking a third term, the winner of the November election will be tasked with selling the budget to lawmakers during the next legislative session.

"This is a large increase, but it has absolutely nothing to do with me trying to appease or build any kind of political support," Luna said. "The fact that I'm not on the ballot actually brings more credibility to this request. This is the amount of dollars needed if we're going to continue the progress we started last year."

Luna requested a 5.8 percent budget hike last year to begin implementing 20 recommendations from Otter's education task force to improve Idaho public schools. Lawmakers approved a 5.1 percent increase, the biggest since 2008.

The recommendations have support from the governor, the legislative budget committee and the two candidates vying for Luna's seat.

"If we're serious about the recommendations, it's going to require more funding and more changes at the same time," he said of his $1.46 billion education budget.

It's still unknown how much a teacher's starting salary will change next year. Luna and his staff said they await details on a new teacher compensation formula and certification and licensing system.

The budget includes:

— $4 million for content and curriculum materials.

— $23.7 million for the teacher pay formula.

— $21.5 million to add two days of professional development for teachers during the school year.

— $15.8 million for teacher leadership awards.

Luna said whoever wins the November election — Democratic candidate Jana Jones or Republican hopeful Sherri Ybarra — will be invited to attend senior staff meetings and work with him to ease the transition.

Jones said Tuesday she had only seen a summary of Luna's budget. She said her initial response was that the budget leaned too heavily on earmarks and didn't leave enough room for local districts to determine how to spend the funding.

"Our schools are in crisis and the Luna budget appears to do little to nothing to address the real needs of our schools in any meaningful way," Jones said, citing more than 40 districts operating on four-day school weeks. She says that forces kids to lose over a month of instruction.

Ybarra sent a statement to The Associated Press saying she appreciated Luna's offer to help with the transition. She did not address whether or not she supported his budget.

"I support adequate funding and will work with the Idaho Legislature and stakeholders to ensure the funding will directly address the needs of the whole child," she said.

Along with a new state superintendent, Idaho lawmakers will be asked to tackle the schools budget with new members on the education and budget committees.

For example, Republican state Sen. Dean Mortimer of Idaho Falls is likely to replace the outgoing chairman on the Senate Education Committee. The change will require him to give up his seat on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, where he previously carried the education budget for the Senate.

The outcome of several competitive legislative races in November could also change the makeup of the budget committee.

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