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House kills Ybarra’s office budget amid dispute over new early-reading test

UPDATED: Sat., March 17, 2018, 5:16 p.m.

The Idaho House meets on Friday, March 16, 2018. (Betsy Z. Russell / The Spokesman-Review)
The Idaho House meets on Friday, March 16, 2018. (Betsy Z. Russell / The Spokesman-Review)

The Idaho House on Friday killed the budget bill for state Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra’s office for next year, amid a dispute over plans to replace the state’s early reading assessment test with a new, computerized version.

The budget bill included no funding to expand the current pilot project of the new Idaho Reading Indicator test for kids in kindergarten through third grade, though the new test now in use at 58 Idaho schools – including Coeur d’Alene – was scheduled to expand statewide next year. The state Board of Education a day earlier voted unanimously to move forward with the new test.

Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, the sponsor of the budget bill, said a group of lawmakers and stakeholders is still working on a compromise on the reading test.

“We’re working diligently to try to find a compromise – we have been all session,” she said.

House Education Chair Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, introduced a bill earlier this week to scrap the new statewide test and let school districts contract for whatever early reading assessment they want next year, while still conducting the 20-year-old “legacy” version of the IRI, which simply grades students on how well they read a passage. That bill had been scheduled for a hearing Friday, but was pulled from the agenda at the last minute.

The reading test dispute has emerged as a major sticking point to adjourning the 2018 legislative session. Lawmakers hope to wrap up their business next week.

At lawmakers’ direction, Ybarra last year issued a request for proposals, then selected Dallas-based Istation to provide the new computerized test. But key lawmakers this year have expressed concern about the new test, including whether the vendor might have a built-in advantage in marketing its reading-remediation software to Idaho districts.

The current year’s budget includes $100,000 for the pilot project. Ybarra requested $433,000 next year to expand it.

The budget bill that was voted down Friday on a 42-27 vote in the House would have continued to use results from the old version of the IRI to determine how to divide more than $11 million in remediation funds between Idaho school districts.

The Legislature’s joint budget committee must reconvene and approve a new budget that will win House and Senate support.


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