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Viewpoint: Supt. Ybarra lays out education priorities ahead of 2021 legislative session

Legislation on in-person learning, restoring budget cuts, teacher pay and early literacy top Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra's priority list.

BOISE, Idaho — Public education is expected to be a major topic at this year's  Idaho Legislative Session, which starts on Monday. 

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra's has requested a budget of just over $2 billion for the upcoming school year. But school funding is not the only item on her priority list, she told KTVB's Doug Petcash.

Ybarra says she plans to introduce legislation backing in-person learning for students, a point of contention as Idaho grapples with the spread of coronavirus. 

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"Our kids need to be in school, our teachers want to be with their kids. So,,it will involve some wording around all students in schools have the right to an uninterrupted education," she said. "That includes music, physical education and the arts when safety and our health requirements can be met. Also important that we reverse the 5% funding holdback. Districts cut their previously approved 2021 budgets as a mid-pandemic precaution."

Ybarra says she plans to work with the legislature to get those reductions reversed as soon as state revenue will allow.

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Teacher pay is also on her mind.

"We are still focused on rewarding and attracting great teachers and leaders, so compensation or pay for our teachers is really important," Ybarra said. "There will be over $21 million to reinstate funding for the career ladder, which is a way to pay our educators."

Ybarra said the state is still grappling with a shortage of teachers - something that may be exacerbated by the pandemic, if more educators decide to retire early or simply not come back to school out of concerns about being infected by COVID-19.

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"But I will say that educators have been tremendously flexible, and they were up to the challenge. You know, in about a week when we had to close schools in the spring they were back up and running and being very innovative, but that's one of the reasons I want to work really hard to restore those budget cuts, and because the reason that we want to make sure the career ladder money gets restored and that we can also add that advanced professional rung for our veteran teachers," she said. "We want to make sure that pay is a top priority for our educators so we can attract the best and the brightest."

Ybarra also discusses how our schools, students and teachers are holding up under the strain of the coronavirus pandemic, and how millions of dollars in federal coronavirus relief dollars are being spent to help our schools.

Viewpoint airs Sunday mornings at 6:30 on KTVB. It also airs several times after that on 24/7 with the first airing at 9 a.m.

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