State of the State: Otter Proposes Higher Ed 'Tuition Lock,' 7.9 Percent Increase for Public Schools 

click to enlarge Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter - STATE OF IDAHO
  • State of Idaho
  • Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter

Bipartisan leaders of the Idaho Legislature escorted Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter into the chambers of the Idaho House Monday afternoon, in anticipation of the governor's 2016 State of the State address delivered to a statewide television audience.

Otter apologized for not shaking more hands as he entered the chambers, saying he was fighting illness. Within seconds of opening his address, Otter insisted the the state of Idaho was "healthy and strong" and its people were "optimistic."

The top of Otter's agenda was his much-anticipated recommendations for public education, telling the joint session of the Legislature that his proposed spending plan calls for a 7.9 percent increase in public school funding. Otter said he supports Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra's request to "fully restore pre-recession levels of operating funds to school districts," and added he was recommending $5 million for more college and career counseling in Idaho high schools.

Otter said he was calling on Idaho public colleges and universities to institute what he called a "tuition lock," meaning Idaho undergraduates would pay the same rate for at least four academic years following enrollment. He also recommended a $5 million increase in the state's Opportunity Scholarship program to push more Idaho students beyond high school and another $5 million for the Completion Scholarship program, designed to encourage those with some post-secondary education to return to the classroom.

Another Otter proposal is a $5 million funding package to make the Eastern Idaho Technical College in Idaho Falls a "full-featured community college." Under Otter's proposed budget, all community colleges in the state would enjoy a 9.6 percent funding increase while four-year public institutions would see an 8.8 percent increase.

For health care, the governor said he wanted Idaho to expand the state's successful creation of new behavioral health crisis centers in Idaho Falls and Coeur d'Alene. A third behavioral health crisis center is expected to be created in southern Idaho and most sources say the Treasure Valley should be the site of a third state-funded center once the Legislature approves its funding. During the first nine months that the Idaho Falls crisis center opened, it logged more than 1,100 admissions and diverted 47 people away from more expensive in-patient psychiatric care, according to Otter.

Otter also touched on the current lawsuit against the state of Idaho over the constitutionality of its public defense system. The suit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, argues Idaho's public defense system, guaranteed by the United States Constitution, is inadequate. Otter urged lawmakers to address the issue in the current session and said his proposed budget would include $5 million to implement changes the Legislature might approve to fix the issue.

While most Statehouse watchers and legislative leadership are predicting one of the shortest Statehouse sessions on record ahead of the November elections, Otter reminded incumbents not to be too preoccupied with their campaigns.

"It is my sincere wish that we undertake our work together in this legislative session without keeping one eye on the upcoming election. Instead, let us proceed with a focused commitment to applying government's proper role to our current challenges and to improving the lives of generations to come," he said.
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