Otter talks education in his State of the State address

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — State spending on public schools would increase more than $30 million next year under the governor's proposed budget, which also includes a $21 million boost in general funding for Idaho's colleges and universities.

Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter on Monday also proposed replenishing the rainy day account for public schools and kicking in the first state payment to a similar account for higher education.

Public schools chief Tom Luna wanted at least $60 million of a projected state surplus to go toward the public education budget in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

But in his State of the State address, the Republican governor called for a $31.6 million boost in state general funding for public schools. Otter wants to make up the other half with $26 million in lump sum bonuses for teachers that would be pegged to the state hitting tax revenue targets.

Otter also called on state lawmakers to back his plan to shift $29 million toward a rainy day account for public education that was all but depleted during the economic downturn. He also vowed to fully fund sweeping education changes for Idaho schools that were signed into law last year amid fierce debate.

The education mandates backed by Luna and the governor phase in laptops for every high school teacher and student while requiring online courses.

In addition to the classroom technology upgrades, the changes also limit teacher collective bargaining to salaries and benefits, dump seniority as a factor in layoffs, and require union negotiations to be held in public while introducing teacher merit pay and shifting money from salaries to help pay for the changes.

Critics behind a referendum campaign seeking to overturn the laws are gearing up for a November vote on the measures.

State spending on Idaho's higher education system would also increase under Otter's budget.

The governor recommended a $19 million boost in state general funding for Idaho's colleges and universities. He also wants to shift another $4.9 million into a reserve account for Idaho's higher education system.

The Higher Education Stabilization Fund created in 2010 is similar to the reserve account set aside several years ago for the K-12 public school system. But the fund for colleges and universities has so far only captured yearly interest from student tuition and fee revenues, holding less than $400,000.

If lawmakers follow Otter's budget recommendation, the reserve account for higher education would hold more than $5 million.