A narrowly divided House voted 34-32 in favor of HB 556, legislation from Rep. Steven Harris, R-Boise, to require parent and student input in teacher evaluations – a bill that was opposed by all three major education stakeholder groups in Idaho, and a departure from the governor’s education improvement task force recommendations. “I think we’ve been down this path before, when we assumed we know better than the professionals in education,” House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, told the House. “It didn’t end well last time.”
Nevertheless, the bill passed. After the House had moved on to other business, Rep. James Holtzclaw, R-Meridian, asked to change his vote on HB 556 from “no” to “yes,” prompting the House to go at ease and leadership from both parties to huddle. After a break, the House reconvened and agreed to allow Holtzclaw to change his vote – making the vote on the controversial bill 35-31 – but House Speaker Scott Bedke warned lawmakers that they should think carefully about their votes. A vote can be changed only by unanimous consent of the House, and he noted that in past sessions, either the majority or the minority has objected to such changes and they haven’t been allowed. The bill now moves to the Senate Education Committee.
Harris’ bill includes an array of specific percentages of weight that must be given to parent and student input and certain other factors in teacher evaluations, with those percentages increasing each year through 2019; it also requires larger percentages of weight in teacher evaluations to be placed on student test scores. No distinction is made between older or younger students in requiring their input. Associations representing Idaho school administrators, school board members and teachers all opposed the bill.