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Eye On Boise

Dems unveil ed reform bills to back task force, Luna signs on

Rep. Janie Ward-Engleking speaks at a news conference in the state Capitol on Wednesday; at left is Rep. Hy Kloc, D-Boise; at right is Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise (Betsy Russell)
Rep. Janie Ward-Engleking speaks at a news conference in the state Capitol on Wednesday; at left is Rep. Hy Kloc, D-Boise; at right is Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise (Betsy Russell)

Idaho House and Senate Democrats were joined by GOP state schools Superintendent Tom Luna today as they unveiled four bills designed to implement the 20 recommendations of Gov. Butch Otter’s education stakeholders task force. Both the Dems and Luna said it’s time for improving Idaho’s schools to become a bipartisan issue in the state. “What resulted from this group’s efforts was a bipartisan set of recommendations,” said Rep. Janie Ward-Engleking, D-Boise, who served on the task force. “I know what kind of research, compromise and collaboration went into the recommendations.”

She said, “Our bills provide a framework to implement these recommendations. We certainly know we can’t do everything totally in one year, but we can put that framework in place and begin.” The four bills address the 20 recommendations with one exception, the Idaho Core Standards, the state’s version of Common Core standards for student achievement, because the Legislature already approved that in 2011.

Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, said, “This isn’t a partisan issue. We all know that we need to work together. The public expects us to work together.” Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, said, “We’re open to all suggestions. We’re open to anybody else that’s got bills. We’d like to talk with them. When this process is finished, we’d like to have a consensus piece of legislation that is going to pass the House and the Senate and be signed by the governor.”

Luna said he met with the Democratic legislators several times and made suggestions that were included as the bills were drafted. “I think what we have here is something we’ve been looking and searching for for some time, for years, and that is bipartisan support and recognition that we have to do more for our children as we prepare them for the world,” Luna said. “This is a huge step forward, as it creates the bipartisan support for education reform that we’ve wanted, but it’s been elusive.”

Luna’s “Students Come First” school reform laws, which included rolling back teachers’ collective bargaining rights and a new focus on online learning, passed the Legislature without a single Democratic vote; voters resoundingly rejected the laws in the 2012 election.

Gov. Butch Otter, who had backed the rejected laws, then appointed a 31-member task force drawing from all sides in the education reform debate, and it proposed the 20 recommendations. They range from restoring $82 million a year in operational funds cut from the schools in recent years’ budget cuts, to new ways to determine when students should advance to the next grade. A teacher career ladder would bring big pay increases along with a new tiered licensing program, and the state would step up classroom technology, teacher mentoring and training, advanced opportunities for students and more.

Burgoyne said, “This legislation does not set timetables. It says these are the goals that the state of Idaho seeks to achieve. It gives specific authorization for rule-making. It directs, in some cases, that the germane people return to us for proposed legislation for specific implementation.” Said Luna, “I think it’s a very positive day.”

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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