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2015 critical year for school reform, panel says

OLYMPIA – The Legislature needs to pick up the pace at coming up with more money to improve the state's schools, a special committee is telling the state Supreme Court in a report due Wednesday.

Although it may not have done as much for schools in the past session as some may have wanted, a joint legislative committee said the Legislature did pass some improvements during the short session, such as increasing the number of credits needed for high school graduation in 2019, showing consensus is possible.

The real test will come next year, the panel concluded in its report. It asked the court give “deep consideration” to the improvements made so far and “recognize that 2015 is the next and most critical year for the Legislature to reach the grand agreement needed.”

That agreement could mean as much as $3.5 billion more for public schools between 2015 and 2019.

The Legislature is under a 2012 order from the court to improve schools, and essentially put money behind its past promises for education reform. Last year the court ordered the Legislature to provide it with a report by April 30 on how it will meet those goals. On Tuesday, with one day to spare, the Joint Select Committee on Article IX Litigation adopted a 58-page report which is primarily a summary of actions taken since 2009 and a recap of education bills that did or didn’t pass in the 2014 session. It includes extensive appendices for the court that explain the state’s two-year budget process and how it pays for basic education.

Article IX is the section of the state Constitution that says it is “the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.”

The report offers little insight into what the Legislature might do next year. As Rep. Chad Magendanz, R-Issaquah, said after the meeting, the committee can’t commit a future Legislature to any particular action.

“Coming up with the plan is not within the jurisdiction of this committee,” Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, said.

The question of how to pay for better schools likely will be a source of contention in 2015, as it has been for years. Magendanz said the state should cover the cost of school improvements, as its paramount duty, before spending money on anything else, and only consider tax increases for other programs if what’s left of the existing revenue isn’t enough.

“We also have taxpayers to think about,” Rep. Susan Fagan, R-Pullman, said. 

Lanza booted from Otter’s ed task force after he joins Democratic challenger’s campaign

Mike Lanza, the parent-turned-education activist who chaired the campaign that successfully overturned the “Students Come First” school reform laws, says he’s been booted from Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s education improvement task force because he’s signed on with Otter’s Democratic opponent’s campaign. The 31-member task force brought all sides in the education reform debate together and made 20 recommendations, all of which Otter endorsed; the Legislature started work on some of those this year.

Lanza, who is now communications director and education adviser to Democrat A.J. Balukoff’s gubernatorial campaign, also still heads Idaho Parents and Teachers Together, the group that grew out of the successful referendum campaign in 2012. “There are politicians and candidates now serving on the task force, and no one questions whether they should be, and I don’t question whether they should be,” Lanza said. “They all have an appropriate role. No one has ever suggested that any of the dealings of the task force have been politicized.”

Marilyn Whitney, spokeswoman for the State Board of Education, which oversees the task force, said task force head Richard Westerberg, a board member, made the call, in consultation with board Chairman Don Soltman and board Executive Director Mike Rush, none of whom were immediately available for comment. “What I do know is that if IPAT wishes to have someone they can, but that it’s problematic and could be counter-productive for that person to be Mike, given that he now represents another entity,” Whitney said. “I think the board worked very hard to keep the previous task force process from being political and politicized.” The original 31-member task force is now reforming into two new committees; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Cheering for education in the cold…

About 75 well-bundled teachers and their supporters gathered on the Statehouse steps this afternoon to rally for improving Idaho schools and press for state lawmakers to enact the 20 recommendations of the governor’s education stakeholders task force, which range from a new teacher career ladder system to restoring funds cut from schools since 2009. “During the recent recession, there were only a handful of states who suffered more severe cuts than Idaho did,” Idaho Education Association President Penni Cyr told the crowd. “This cannot continue. … Legislators need to step up and fund our public schools.” She was greeted with cheers from the surprisingly cheerful crowd, which stood amid small clumps of ice and snow, mostly huddled together on one side of the giant Statehouse Christmas tree.

Cyr called the task force plan “a solid step forward for improving education in Idaho.” Rep. Hy Kloc, D-Boise, also got cheers from the crowd when he said, “I’m one of those rare animals that you’ll see around the Statehouse – I’m a Democrat.” He said minority Democrats have “a small voice,” but said, “It’s like going to bed with a mosquito in your bed – you never know how irritating a small person can be.”

Aaron White, of White Electric and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said he wants his two young sons to get a good education and grow up to find good jobs, all without leaving the state.

A rare moment of bipartisanship on school reform in Idaho…

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the rare moment of bipartisanship on school reform in Idaho that occurred today, as Democratic state lawmakers unveiled four far-reaching bills Wednesday, and GOP state schools Superintendent Tom Luna endorsed them. Within hours, GOP Gov. Butch Otter and House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, also had encouraging words about the Democrats’ bills, which would enact into law the 20 recommendations from a task force that Otter appointed to chart the future of education reform in Idaho. Those items 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; here’s a link to the full task force recommendations.

 

Otter on school reform: ‘Right now we’ve all got a chance to make it a bipartisan issue’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter says he’s working on a five-year plan to implement the recommendations of his education stakeholders task force. But asked about legislation unveiled by Democratic lawmakers today to adopt all the recommendations into law as a framework for the state, Otter said, “I think it’s great. Basically, I’m taking their (the task force's) framework and I’m putting it into a road map.”

Otter, speaking to the Idaho Tribes Summit this morning, said, “I’m going to be as aggressive as I can, but it’s going to take five years, I believe, in order to put another $270 million into education.” That’s the total price tag for the recommendations less the $82 million that’s just restoring past cuts – so it’s the “new money,” he said. “Getting that money back is going to take a couple years, but it’s high on our agenda. It’s a total bill of $350 million bucks. I think it’s doable, but I think it’s only doable over five years.”

Otter said in his plan, “I feel confident in being able to write that first year … in ink, but the next four years I’ll probably write that in pencil.” He said he’ll want schools to preserve efficiencies they’ve developed during the years of cutbacks, including a $3.8 million annual savings from energy-efficiency improvements ranging from upgraded lightbulbs to new windows and improvements to boilers. “I don’t want to lose those efficiencies,” he said.

Asked if education reform can be a bipartisan issue in Idaho – after the tumult and rancor over the voter-rejected GOP “Students Come First” school reform laws – Otter said “I think it’s got to. I think it could and I think it should.” With the economy turning around, he said, “Right now we’ve all got a chance to make it a bipartisan issue.”

Bedke ‘encouraged’ by bipartisan support for ed reform bills

House Speaker Scott Bedke, asked about today’s unveiling of four bills to implement the 20 recommendations of the governor’s school reform task force by Democratic lawmakers – with support from GOP state schools chief Tom Luna – said, “I’m encouraged by that.” Bedke said, “Over time, I think we can do that. And I think everybody’s pretty committed to that.”

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

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.”

Idaho business leaders ramp up push for education reforms

Concerned about where Idaho’s education system is headed, dozens of Idaho CEOs have banded together to push for reforms and improvements, from boosting reading instruction in early grades to finding ways to get more Idaho kids to continue their education after high school. “Education is the engine that pulls the economy,” says Rod Gramer, the new president and CEO of Idaho Business for Education. “Without a good education, my life would have been totally different.”

Gramer is a longtime Idaho journalist who headed news operations at TV stations around the country before returning to his home state this year to take the reins of the IBE. Raised by a mom who worked as a cashier for 31 years after his dad died in a car accident shortly before he was born, Gramer, 60, was the first in his immediate family to graduate from college.

Business leaders first formed Idaho Business for Education in 2005, but they’ve stepped it up this year, hiring on full-time staff – Gramer came on in April – and mobilizing around three projects: Improving early reading among Idaho kids; supporting the controversial Common Core standards for math and English in Idaho schools; and implementing the 20 recommendations of Gov. Butch Otter’s education stakeholders’ task force, which include everything from a new, more generous teacher pay system to advancing students to the next grade based on mastery, rather than age.

Gramer says the 85 current and retired CEOs and top executives who make up the group see the task force recommendations as a “strategic plan” for education in Idaho. “Public education is like a $1.4 billion business in Idaho – we spend that much money,” he said. “There’s probably not a $1.4 billion enterprise in the country that doesn’t have a strategic plan.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Ed task force members: There’s agreement on needed changes, now political will needed too

Three members of the governor’s education stakeholders’ task force, which delivered a near-unanimous package of 20 recommendations to improve Idaho’s schools to Gov. Butch Otter this year, told the City Club of Boise today that it’s a mistake to focus on the potential price tag, which could eventually stretch to hundreds of millions of dollars.

“I’ve heard a lot of pushback about the cost - sticker shock’s got everybody,” said Richard Westerberg, a state Board of Education member who chaired the task force. “But I’ve yet to hear the first real criticism of the recommendations in the plan on its function. They’re good recommendations. Can it all be funded in one year? Of course not.” Westerberg said the recommendations are a framework, and the state needs to come up with a plan to accomplish it over time, while also filling in the details. “There’s a whole lot of heavy lifting that needs to be done here,” he said. “You’ve got a really good plan from a bunch of smart, dedicated folks saying, ‘Here’s what we think could help.’ I think the Legislature really wants to do right this year. I’m hopeful.”

Linda Clark, superintendent of the Meridian School District, the state’s largest district, said across the nation, states spend an average of roughly $10,000 per student to educate youngsters, while Idaho spends less than half that. “Can you fund a ‘world class’ school system at 50 percent of the average?” she asked. Years of budget cuts have cost her school district $10 million a year in state funding for basic operations, she said, and left it 117 teachers and 19 administrators below the state allocation. “That results in very high class sizes and very large work portfolios for folks. I’m concerned that as we track that over time, it will have an impact on achievement.”

Mike Lanza, a Boise parent who played a key role in the campaign to overturn the “Students Come First” school reform laws, said, “We’re not attempting to take a small step. … Because we’ve been disinvesting in education, we’ve put ourselves at a disadvantage.” He said, “It’s not hyperbolic to suggest that Idaho is on its way to becoming the Mississippi of the 21st century if we don’t start to do something about this. … We’ve basically created an inexpensive school system, which is not necessarily compatible with a great school system.”

Westerberg said the latest estimates show that by 2020, 60 to 66 percent of jobs in Idaho will require some education beyond high school, whether that’s college or a one-year certification. But now, he said, just over a third of the population gets that. “This state just is not ready for the future of employment,” he said. Meanwhile, the task force members noted that as Idaho has crimped its education funding, it’s fallen in relation to other states in personal income, and risen to first in the nation for the proportion of minimum-wage jobs. All three said a better education system is key to Idaho’s economic future, and noted that, surprisingly, the 31 diverse members of the task force virtually all agreed on what’s needed.

“While this level of collaboration and collegiality is not unprecedented in Idaho, it has been a very long time,” Clark said. Said Lanza, “There’s not a lot of disagreement … on what it takes to deliver education effectively. … We need the political will to do what many people understand needs to be done.”

No votes or recommendations, but K-12 Interim Committee chairs say report still in works…

The Idaho Legislature’s K-12 Educational System Interim Committee adjourned its meeting yesterday without any votes and announced it wouldn’t meet again – leaving hanging the question of what, if anything, the panel was recommending back to the Legislature after its three meetings this fall. Now, Idaho Education News reporter Clark Corbin reports that the panel’s two co-chairs, Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, left, and House Education Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, right (Idaho EdNews photo) say the panel’s work isn’t done. Instead, they’re having a report compiled by the Legislative Services Office on the committee’s work, including recommendations from stakeholder groups who testified to the committee during its meetings, and plan to share the report with the rest of the committee. Then, members can use it to draft bills or proposals for next year’s legislative session.

“This was not an attempt to replicate the Legislature,” DeMordaunt told Corbin. “This was an opportunity for us in a smaller subset to review what happened and share learning with our colleagues in the greater body.” You can read Corbin’s full report here.

Examining the costs of ed task force recommendations…

Legislative budget writers are hearing a presentation this morning on the education stakeholders task force recommendations, which have been endorsed by Gov. Butch Otter and state schools Superintendent Tom Luna. “If the recommendations were implemented today, it’s a range of $346 million to $406 million dollars” in fiscal impact to the state, legislative budget analyst Paul Headlee told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. That estimate is for the minimum costs. Some of the 20 recommendations from the task force wouldn’t require more state spending, such as moving to a “mastery-based” system for advancing students from one grade to the next; enhancing pre-service teaching opportunities; and adopting new teacher preparation recommendations.

The priciest items on the list: $82 million to restore operational funds cut from the schools during the state’s economic downturn, and $252 million for a new career ladder system for paying teachers, which would include substantially boosting pay and shifting to a three-tiered professional licensing system. Luna this week unveiled his budget request for next year, which seeks to phase in the proposals over the next five to six years.

Headlee noted that the career ladder recommendation, if phased in over six years as recommended, would cost $42 million next year, split into $26 million for the first year of the new ladder, and $15.9 million for leadership awards. That’s roughly equivalent to a 3.7 percent increase in teacher pay overall next year for the career ladder changes, and another 2.2 percent from the leadership awards. You can see Headlee’s full presentation here.

“Within this model, an instructor could conceivably move backwards, if their evaluation shows they’re not achieving,” Headlee said, or if they move backwards on the licensure tiers. “So the ladder possibly could move both ways. There’s more detail that needs to be worked out on this.”

As far as the operational funding, Headlee noted that the cost to restore the funds – which are apportioned out to school districts through a per-classroom formula – will rise each year. Those funds have dropped from nearly $25,700 per classroom unit before the recession to just $20,000 this year. The $82 million figure is how much the restoration would cost this year. Next year, projections show there will be about 82 more classrooms, pushing the cost up to about $84 million. If the restoration is phased over five years, the cost would be about $115 million.

Overall, funding all the task force recommendations would require an increase in Idaho’s public school budget of between 26.5 and 31.1 percent, Headlee calculated.

Temporary teacher contract laws get mixed reviews…

The Idaho Legislature’s K-12 Educational System Interim Committee heard sharply differing views this afternoon on how three controversial teacher contract bills have been working since lawmakers passed them on a temporary, one-year basis this year, and what should be done about them next year. The Idaho Education Association requested that two of the three, SB 1040a, allowing teachers’ pay and contract days to be reduced from one year to the next at a school district’s option, and SB 1147a, limiting all terms in master agreements (contracts between school districts and teachers' unions) to one year only, be allowed to expire. They asked for some modifications to the third bill, HB 261, which governs teacher layoffs.

By contrast, the Idaho School Boards Association and the Idaho School Administrators Association requested that the “sunset,” or expiration clause, be removed from all three bills, making them permanent. All re-enact some provisions from the voter-repealed “Students Come First” reform laws, which rolled back teacher contract rights.

Paul Stark, general counsel for the IEA, said SB 1040a has been “abused,” and a dozen Pocatello teachers have seen their contract days cut without the requirements of the law even being followed. “We don’t believe that that’s how we should treat teachers,” he told the lawmakers. “Frankly, with this law, the pendulum has swung way too far the other way. … We have proven through the governor’s task force and we have proven to the citizens of Idaho that the stakeholders can work together. … So our request is please, let us work on this, and we can find a better solution that fits everybody’s needs.”

But Anne Ritter, president of the Meridian School Board, asked the lawmakers to drop the sunsets from all three bills – and also re-enact another controversial Students Come First provision allowing school districts to unilaterally impose contract terms if they haven’t reached contract agreements with teachers by a mid-June deadline. She said her district, the state’s largest, still hasn’t reached an agreement with its teachers, and is facing a financial crunch that’s forced teacher layoffs and large cuts in the number of school days. “Districts have all made difficult decisions during these challenging financial times,” she told the interim committee. “We need the Legislature to revisit the contract laws to make it possible for school boards to plan appropriately and balance their budgets. … The financial condition of school districts around the state is really at risk.”

Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said he’s concerned that Idaho school districts’ financial situation, and an increasing reliance on short-term supplemental tax override levies, has made it difficult to evaluate data on how well the three temporary laws are working. “I don’t think that that’s a good environment to use to set policy,” he said. Goedde suggested considering another one-year extension to allow more examination of the three laws’ effects.

Karen Echeverria, executive director of the School Boards Association, said she didn’t know how her group would view such a prospect; Penni Cyr, IEA president, said hers would be open to the idea. The joint legislative committee meets again in November, and may meet in December as well; it’s due to report back to lawmakers, who convene their session in January.

K-12 interim committee opens all-day meeting…

The Legislature’s joint interim committee on the K-12 educational system has convened at the state Capitol this morning, with public school facilities and security the first item on today’s agenda. Later this morning, the current state of assessments and testing is up for discussion. This afternoon, the committee will hear presentations on the “sunset” legislation passed this year – bills with a one-year “sunset,” or expiration date, targeting teacher contract rights. You can see the full agenda here; and listen live here; the committee is meeting in room EW42 of the Capitol.

Dave Teater, a consultant and former longtime school administrator, is up first. Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said, “You remember that the Supreme Court once upon a time suggested that the Legislature had not fulfilled its constitutional requirement in providing facility funding. We have taken steps to correct that, and so far the Supreme Court has not gone any farther.”

Teater outlined a “renewal-replacement model” for school buildings, to address needed upgrades on an ongoing basis for all school buildings; along with a combination of funding sources, including property taxes, lottery funds and state general fund dollars, and accountability safeguards. “I don’t pretend to come here today with a solution to all the problems,” he said. “This is, we hope, the beginning of a discussion.”

Teater estimated the needed funding for an ongoing school building renewal and replacement program statewide in Idaho at about $60 million a year. Plus, he noted, “There's a lot of buildings out there that are in tough shape, and there appears to be a lot of pent-up demand.”

Luna wants 5.9% increase for schools next year, to start phasing in task force reforms

State school Superintendent Tom Luna told the Meridian Chamber of Commerce today that he endorses “every one” of the 20 recommendations of an education stakeholders task force appointed by Gov. Butch Otter, and has built his budget request for public schools for next year to match them – including a request for a 5.9 percent, $77 million increase in state general funds. “Taken together they will fundamentally transform our education system in Idaho for the better,” Luna said. “They’re all important.”

Luna said he agrees with Otter that the reforms will cost between $350 million and $400 million a year in new money, and that they must be phased in over several years. “While this budget only addresses one fiscal year, I believe it sets us up for a fiscally sound structure for funding the task force recommendations over multiple years,” he said.

Luna’s budget proposal calls for spending $42 million next year for the first phase of a new teacher career ladder, a proposal that will cost $250 million over six years and eventually boost Idaho’s starting teacher pay to $40,000, a third higher than it is now. The plan also would establish a new three-tiered professional licensing system for teachers, with the second tier eventually starting at $50,000 a year, and the top tier at $60,000. The proposal for next year, he said, is “a major step in transforming the way we pay Idaho’s teachers so as a state we can attract great teachers and retain the ones that we already have.”

Luna’s proposal also includes $13.4 million for school technology next year; $5.64 million for new opportunities for high school juniors and seniors to take advanced courses; and $16.5 million for the first installment of restoring $82.5 million in operating funds that have been cut from Idaho’s schools during the state’s economic downturn. The task force suggested phasing in the restoration over five years.

Luna’s budget request totals $1.3779 billion in state general funds, up from this year’s $1.3008 billion figure.  He told the crowd of 80-plus at the Meridian Chamber luncheon that he wants input on the proposal, from everyone – parents, teachers, business people, and more, and is open to making changes. He noted that the Legislature won’t convene for three months, and then it’ll debate for another three. He called his proposal “the beginning of a conversation.”

After his talk, Luna said he’s had “a very positive reception” from legislators, education stakeholders and others to his plan, which anticipates a substantial funding increase for schools not only next year, but likely each year for the next six. Luna said that's what it would take to accomplish the task force's plan. “I think that people are really focused on finding a way to make these recommendations a reality.”

Ed groups unanimous on top priority: Restore school funding

During its all-day meeting today, the Legislature's K-12 Educational System Interim Committee invited representatives of three key stakeholder groups - the state’s school boards association, school administrators association and teachers union - to share what they see as the most pressing challenges and needs. All said funding, in the wake of steep budget cuts since 2009. The state budget now allocates only $20,000 per classroom for operational costs; in 2009, it was $25,696. Schools have lost $82.5 million a year in state funding.

Rob Winslow, executive director of the Idaho Association of School Administrators, said districts have had to make “a lot of significant cuts,” including cutting days from the school year and trimming teacher numbers. “Class sizes that used to be, 30 would seem high – now we’re seeing it’s not that uncommon to start seeing class sizes in the 40s, which is a big problem,” he said. “Our No. 1 area that we really would like to see addressed is that restoration of operational funding.”

Jessica Harrison, director of policy and government affairs for the Idaho School Boards Association, agreed. Costs are rising even as funding has been dropping, she said. “All districts are facing the challenge of the increasing cost of mandatory expenditures,” she said, from insurance to utilities to school supplies. “There is only so far it can go.”

Penni Cyr, president of the Idaho Education Association, noted the increase in successful local property tax override votes for school funding. “Idaho citizens want great public schools, and if the Legislature is unable to put money into their local schools, the electorate will either vote taxes upon themselves … or the system will suffer, and parents, students and educators will flee for better, more supportive systems.” She said many Idaho teachers continue to leave the profession. “It’s frustrating to me that once again I have to report to you that the departures continue at historic levels.”

Public comments being taken on ed stakeholders plan until Sept. 27

Richard Westerberg, who headed the governor's 31-member education stakeholders task force, outlined the group's 20 recommendations to lawmakers this morning, and noted that a public comment period is now open - people can submit their comments on the recommendations until Sept. 27 for consideration. Comments can be emailed to taskforce@osbe.idaho.gov. There's more info here.

Luna: ‘Stark reality’ is Idaho K-12 students meet standards, but fail at higher ed - because standards are too low

Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna told the Legislature’s K-12 interim committee this morning that there’s a “stark reality” about education in Idaho: The state has a “very high graduation rate, one of the highest in the country,” but one of the lowest percentages of students that go on to further education after high school. “And then we see that of those that do go on, almost half of them have to take remedial courses … 38 percent of them do not go on to their second year.” As a result, fewer than 40 percent of Idaho adults have some sort of degree or certificate beyond high school. “That’s in a world where 60 percent of jobs require some form of post-secondary degree or certificate.”

Luna said Idaho students are showing strong results in meeting state standards while they’re still in K-12 schools, but the data for what happens after that shows the standards aren’t high enough. “That’s why Idaho is moving forward with higher academic standards for all students … this school year.” He called the move to the new Idaho Core Standards “a necessary and critical change in Idaho’s education system.”

He went on to highlight Idaho's efforts in recent years to transform how it tracks student progress through a longitudinal data system, saying, “We want an education system that is based on results. In order to accomplish that, we must have high-quality data.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

DeMordaunt: Panel won’t craft bills, but will ‘spawn ideas’ that could become bills

House Education Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, told the K-12 Educational System Interim Committee, “As I think about this committee, I think of kind of three purposes. First is retrospective, the opportunity for us to look back at some of the things we have done, recently done, and make sure they are working the way they are intended. We know the old phrase, if you fail to learn, then you’re doomed to repeat, something along those lines. So it is important that we learn. Second I think for this committee is forward-looking. The opportunity for us to learn, to be educated on certain things, and potentially craft some legislation. Now I don’t see this committee crafting legislation, but I hope this is an opportunity for us to spawn some ideas that we potentially will see in legislation.”

He said, “The third reason for this committee and a charge that I would give every member of this committee, is the responsibility we will have now to take the information we are gleaning over these next several sessions and go back and share it with our respective House and Senate committees. … So those are the three purposes that I see for this committee, and I’m hoping we can move forward in that.”

After his opening remarks, Don Soltman, president of the State Board of Education, discussed Idaho’s goal of having 60 percent of citizens go on to some form of higher education after high school. Currently, he said, “Idaho’s rate is about 39 percent.”

Goedde to K-12 interim committee: ‘Huge task ahead of us’

“We’ve got a huge task ahead of us,” Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, declared as he convened the first meeting of the Legislature’s K-12 Educational System Interim Committee this morning in the Lincoln Auditorium; you can listen live here. Goedde added, “Some of which was done by the governor’s task force and we will get a report on that. Some things outside of what the governor’s task force addressed will be also on the table for us. Our challenge, as I see it, is taking all these recommenations into consideration and moving forward. An interim committee report or a task force report that sits on a shelf someplace is worth nothing, so the challenge is implementation.”

This morning, the panel will hear a report from Don Soltman, president of the State Board of Education, and Mike Rush, executive director of the Office of the State Board of Education; from Tom Luna, state K-12 schools superintendent; and Richard Westerberg of the state board, who will give an update on the governor’s task force and its recent recommendations.

Then representatives of the Idaho Association of School Administrators, the Idaho School Boards Association and the Idaho Education Association will make presentations on their perspective on challenges and needs in the K-12 educational system. After that, the rest of the day’s agenda is mostly devoted to considering the longitudinal data systems the state has been implementing in both K-12 schools and higher education, how it’s working and what could be improved.

Ed task force posts, submits final report

The final report of the governor's education stakeholders task force has been submitted to Gov. Butch Otter and posted online; you can see it here. The report offers detail on the task force and its 20 recommendations (there were 21, but two were consolidated due to duplication), which range from literacy to advanced learning, from restoring operations funding for schools lost through recent budget cuts to substantially boosting Idaho teacher pay through a new career ladder, and from statewide electronic collaboration to more training and mentoring for teachers and administrators and a new tiered professional licensing system. The 31-member task force drew together all sides in the school reform debate, including both opponents and backers of Idaho’s voter-rejected Students Come First school reforms; it included lawmakers, teachers, administrators, school board members, parents, union representatives, activists, officials and business leaders.

The panel worked on its recommendations for eight months, including seven hearings across the state and extensive work in subcommittees. Otter praised the task force's plan last month, saying, “It met every one of my expectations,” and said he's trying to attach a price tag to the plan - which he said likely will be about $350 million - and a proposal for implementing it over four or five years. The Idaho Statesman reported yesterday that state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, who pushed the voter-rejected reform plan, is strongly backing the new task force plan - he served on the task force and voted for the recommendations - and acknowledging missteps in pushing his earlier plan, which sought to roll back teachers' collective bargaining rights, impose a new merit-pay system, and put a new focus on online learning while supplying every high school student with a laptop computer.

Otter endorses ed stakeholders’ task force recommendations

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter today endorsed the sweeping recommendations of his school reform task force, including restoring tens of millions cut from school budgets during Idaho's recession years. “It met every one of my expectations of what we could come out with,” the governor said.

Otter said he's asked his Division of Financial Management to put a price tag on the 21 proposals. “We know it’s going to be roughly $350 million bucks,” he said. “We … know we can’t do that in one year, we can’t do that in two years, or maybe three years. But what we can do is set ourselves on a course that we accomplish so much each year, and … four or five years out, we’ve accomplished the entire package.”

The recommendations include big increases in teacher pay as part of a new 'career ladder;'  advancing students to the next grade only when they've mastered the material;  changing the school funding formula; boosting school technology; raising standards for student achievement; expanding professional development and mentoring for teachers; a new tiered professional licensing structure; and more.

Otter, who spoke about the reforms in response to questions at his annual “Governor’s Address to the Business Community” speech to the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce today, said he met with legislative leaders this morning and discussed the task force recommendations, which were developed by a 31-member panel he appointed to represent all sides in the school reform debate, including both opponents and backers of Idaho’s failed “Students Come First” school reforms; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Ed task force endorses teacher career ladder, mastery-based student advancement, more…

The governor's education stakeholders task force has agreed on a slew of recommendations to recommend to Gov. Butch Otter, from a teacher career ladder program that could cost $253 million over six years, to advancing students based on mastery of subjects or concepts rather than grades. Idaho EdNews reporter Kevin Richert has a rundown at his blog here; click below for a report on some of the recommendations from AP reporter John Miller, including a near-unanimous vote to endorse the new Idaho Core standards for student achievement. Richert also has posted a report here on today's outcome, its remarkable unanimity compared to the school reform fight that preceded it, and what happens next.

A list of the approved recommendations from the State Board of Education is online here, along with a link to details in lengthier documents from today's meetings.

Ed task force debating reform ideas…

The governor's education stakeholders task force is now getting into something of a debate over Idaho Core standards; Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert is following today's debate in a live blog here, and you can watch the meeting live here. So far, the task force has voted on one recommendation from its “structural change” subcommittee, unanimously backing a “mastery based” education system. That means students advance based on content mastery, rather than “seat time” requirements.

Ed task force to vote up or down today on each subcommittee recommendation

The governor’s education stakeholders task force has convened this morning, to begin assembling its final recommendations to Gov. Butch Otter. Chairman Richard Westerberg told the group, “There’s been a considerable amount of work been done and we’ll see the fruits of that work the rest of today, and hopefully get it to the finish line with a set of recommendations that we can forward on to the governor.” First, he said, each of the task force’s subcommittees will meet for 30 minutes to work through their recommendations. Then, the full task force will reassemble at 9:45 and each subcommittee chair will present their panel’s recommendations. Task force members will ask “clarifying questions” on each proposal, and when they all understand  it, they’ll take a vote on whether or not to include it in their final recommendations for the governor.

“We’ll do that on each of the recommendations,” Westerberg said.

Ed task force releases its subcommittees’ proposals

The draft recommendations from subcommittees of the governor's education stakeholders task force are out; Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News has a report here, and you can see the recommendations here, along with the agenda for tomorrow's task force meeting, which will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Hatch Ballroom at the BSU student union building.  The 31-member task force is scheduled to consider its subcommittees' recommendations Friday and decide on its recommendations to Gov. Butch Otter. You can listen live here.

Ed task force proposals could be pricey

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A preliminary list of recommendations created by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter's new Task Force for Improving Education shows a focus on recouping lost education dollars and improving the workforce by paying teachers more money. The Idaho Statesman (http://bit.ly/18JYBRn ) reports the preliminary list includes a draft recommendation to raise minimum teacher salaries from $31,000 to $40,000 statewide, and to seek to restore $82.5 million in operational revenue that school districts have lost since 2008. The recommendations aren't final — task force members are expected to meet Friday to further discuss the list, which reflects subcommittee recommendations to the full task force. The task force was created eight months ago to bring stakeholders together after a stormy education fight that led to the defeat of the Students Come First laws in a referendum last November.

More than three dozen testify on ed needs

Lots and lots of people spoke at the education stakeholders task force forum in Boise this evening; by my count, 37 had testified by the time the meeting ended around 9:20 p.m. Among those, 15 spoke out against the new Common Core standards. The next-most common theme was the need for increased funding for Idaho’s schools, followed by a call for more focus on early-childhood education, special education needs, increased flexibility for Idaho school districts, increased teacher pay and skepticism over merit-pay plans.

“This is not the end of the information-gathering,” task force chairman Richard Westerberg, a state Board of Education member, told the crowd at the close of the hearing. Comments still are being accepted via email, at taskforce@osbe.idaho.gov. Plus, Westerberg said comments from all seven public forums around the state will be transcribed and given to all members of the 31-member Task Force for Improving Education; more than a dozen of those members attended tonight’s forum.

Said Westerberg, “This has been a good evening.  I appreciate your passion, appreciate your attendance.”

Big, passionate crowd focuses on funding, concerns about Common Core

At tonight’s education forum at the state Capitol, there’s a big and passionate crowd, and several common themes have emerged among the first 20 to speak: Backing for more funding for Idaho’s schools; opposition to the new Common Core standards for what children should learn each year; and support for special education, improved teacher pay, more flexibility for local school districts and more focus on early-childhood education.  “If Idaho today was making the same effort at funding public schools that it did in the ‘80s and the ‘90s, Idaho public schools would have $550 million more in funding than they have today,” former longtime state chief economics Mike Ferguson told the crowd. “This magnitude in funding reduction has not been without consequences.”

Former four-term state lawmaker and longtime teacher Steve Smylie said, “I think it’s pretty simple what we need to do, four things. One, understand that the problem is really infrastructure. Two, we need to get on the same team, we all want the same thing. Three, it’s going to cost money. So far, we don’t seem to be willing to pay for it. A survey from 2012 by Gallup … indicates that 65 percent of Americans would be willing to increase their tax payments to support struggling schools. We don’t seem to feel the same way here. No. 4: This isn’t some hidden mystery, we already know what will improve schools – it’s just simply a matter of doing it.”

Phoebe Smith, whose daughter joined her along with her service dog, told the session, “The first solution to education funding: Return tax levels to where they were in the ‘90s, then use that money to fund education and restore Idaho’s social safety net. … I want Idaho to stop playing games with education.”

Opponents of Common Core standards were particularly outspoken, and greeted with big cheers and applause. Richard Twight called the standards a “perverse, un-American system,” and said, “With Common Core our children are to be transformed into creatures of the central state.” Susan Frickey called Common Core “the new miracle drug,” and said, “Look hard at the intended and unintended consequences of this path, particularly the very large, very permanent federal footprint evidenced in compliance with these standards and what they would mean to our local education and state sovereignty in Idaho.”

Meanwhile, the State Department of Education has posted a list of “myths and facts” about the Common Core standards; you can read it here. Testimony is continuing.

Ed task force holds Boise hearing…

The seventh and final public forum by the governor's education stakeholders task force is tonight in Boise, starting at 6:30 p.m. MT. You can watch live here.

100+ turn out for ed stakeholders forum in Pocatello; Boise forum set for Thurs.

An energetic crowd of 101 turned out at Tuesday’s education stakeholders task force meeting in Pocatello, reports Clark Corbin of Idaho Education News, and their concerns focused on supporting teachers, criticism of the new Idaho Common Core standards and more; you can read Corbin’s full report here. Larry Gebhardt, an adjunct faculty member at Idaho State University, called on task force members to foster a renewed culture of learning, and said teachers have not been shown the respect they deserve. “The overall tone of legislation in education policy indicates a great disrespect toward teachers and teachers in Idaho on K-12,” Gebhardt said. “There is no epidemic of bad teachers and bad faculty. Students are getting the best result from the limited resources available.”

Two members of the 31-member task force attended; it was the sixth community forum the group has held around the state in the past two weeks. The final forum is set for this Thursday at 6:30 in the Lincoln Auditorium in the state Capitol; the public is invited to offer its input on how best to improve education in Idaho. There's more info here.