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Viewpoint: Getting ready to go back to school

Idaho Supt. of Public Instruction Debbie Critchfield discusses the big issues in public education for the 2023-24 school year.

IDAHO, USA — The summer seems to be flying by. It's hard to believe, but school starts soon for students across the Treasure Valley and across the state. August 16 and 17 are the start dates for many districts. That means a lot of parents are out running around getting their last minute back-to-school shopping done, teachers are working on their lesson plans, and state education leaders are enacting their plans, programs and policies for the 2023-24 school year. 

The Idaho State Department of Education says 319,000 students attended public schools in 117 districts during the 2022-23 school year. Roughly the same number, as well as about 19,000 teachers, will start school this year, several months after the state legislature and Governor Brad Little made large investments in public education. They approved investing $410 million of the state's record $1.6 billion budget surplus into public education. 

That includes $80 million for the Idaho Launch program, which provides $8,000 grants to qualifying Idaho high school seniors to use at any Idaho community college, career technical program or workforce training program for jobs that are in high demand in the state.

They increased pay for all teachers, including bumping up starting teacher pay to more than $47,000 a year. The governor says that puts Idaho in the top 10 nationally for starting teacher salaries.

The legislature also increased funding for public schools by 16.4% and made the Empowering Parents grant program permanent. The program provides help to eligible families to pay for things such as computers, internet access, instructional materials and tutoring.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Debbie Critchfield talked about the big issues in public education, including teacher pay. She says it's still too early to know if the pay raises are helping to retain and recruit new teachers, but she's hearing positive things.

 "We're certainly going to get more information as we go through this coming school year, but I think one early piece of evidence that it is something that is helping within the profession to attract and retain educators, is we're hearing that there are less teacher positions that are open," Critchfield said. "There are many districts that are still scrambling to fill, you know they're still trying to fill bus driver positions and some of these other things, but I'm hearing less districts talk about the actual teacher shortage."

The interview with Superintendent Critchfield covered a lot of ground. On this edition of Viewpoint hear her stances on school funding and the funding formula, grants for schools and parents, as well as a new supplemental curriculum called "The Story of America," and why she worries about the politicization of the classroom. 

Viewpoint airs Sunday mornings at 9 o'clock on KTVB Idaho's NewsChannel 7.

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