State schools superintendent Anne Fox on Friday campaigned vigorously for the $747.3 million in public school aid she wants.
She urged legislative budget writers to sweep aside Gov. Phil Batt’s more conservative proposal.
“I know you have honored the governor’s request in the past,” Fox told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. “But the budget I’m presenting here today is not an inflated estimate of what the public schools need. … This is a fair and very conservative request, and we hope you would honor it.”
In refusing to even consider the possibility the budget panel would settle for the $741.7 million Batt recommended, Fox made good on her promise last week to Senate Education Chairman Gary Schroeder that she would not accede to the governor’s plan as she did three years ago.
“We want to stick with this,” she told Senate Finance Vice Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert.
Fox said the request tried to balance education needs with available cash. And Idaho Education Association Director James Shackelford said that even at $6 million more than Batt recommended, the proposal remains insufficient to address public school needs.
North Idaho schools, in particular, struggle with dilapidated buildings and low teacher salaries. Fox earlier this month said the state is losing qualified teachers to Washington state, where they are paid more.
“I take very seriously my role as an advocate for public education,” Fox told the committee. “I also take very seriously my role as the elected representative of Idaho taxpayers.”
At the same time, a panel that included a school board member and Parent-Teacher Association representative urged the committee to remove the strings it has been attaching to millions of dollars in state aid each year.
Fox maintained that school board and district superintendents favor the strings because they keep at least that cash off the negotiating table for teacher contracts.
But Emmett School Board Chairman Carol Gardner said that while leaving even more money open to contract talks each year is a concern, school boards throughout the state would rather have discretion over as much money as possible so they can tailor programs and services to their specific needs.
“No school district is the same,” Gardner said, “so that what may be needed in one is not necessarily needed in another.”
Fox also mounted a vigorous defense of the $500,000 requested for using phonics in reading instruction. The Board of Education has taken issue with the specifics of Fox’s approach.
“I am very grateful that the authority of my office has given me the opportunity to promote and help restore phonics instruction to the public schools,” Fox said.
“It is vitally necessary to get the attention of educators and policy makers.”
Another of her other favored projects - charter schools - also came under criticism from the panel.
Margaret Carlson, the legislative chairwoman for the state Parent-Teacher Association, maintained that under current management strategies, existing public schools offer the same innovation as so-called charter schools.
More importantly, however, Carlson told the budget panel that any charter school experiment should be delayed until something has been done to eliminate the $700 million statewide backlog in school building maintenance and construction.
“We’re concerned that parents will flee public schools because of inadequate facilities,” she said, and Gardner agreed that lawmakers must take some action to solve the building problem.
Carlson also joined Rathdrum first grade teacher Diane Riley in questioning Fox’s program of administering the Iowa Test of Basic Skills annually to every student from the third through the 11th grades.
“I’m concerned that we’re overtesting our children,” Carlson said, and she maintained there needs to be more local control over the tests that are given.
Riley contended that increased testing only improves a student’s ability to take tests and that the Iowa Test of Basic Skills does not measure the quality of education, but only stacks students from top to bottom nationwide.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: $5.6 MILLION DIFFERENCE In his budget, Gov. Phil Batt recommended that $741.7 million be spent on public schools. State schools superintendent Anne Fox says the schools need at least $747.3 million.
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