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The Senate Education Committee has adjourned for the day without voting on the State Board of Education's online course rule; vice-chairman Sen. Dean Mortimer said the panel would "hold this and all further rules 'til tomorrow." Committee Chairman John Goedde has a meeting at 5 on health insurance exchanges.
State schools Superintendent Tom Luna, testifying in favor of the state Board of Education's online course rule, told the Senate Education Committee, "Education all across the country is changing for the betterment and focus on our students." He said his goal is that Idaho's high school graduates be prepared for college or the workforce and "not need remediation when they get there." Said Luna, "We must make sure Idaho students get the knowledge and the skills they need in K through 12 in order to be successful after high school. We know that online learning or e-learning is a critical skill for the 21st Century."
As the Senate Education Committee prepared to hold its hearing this afternoon on the administrative rule approved by the State Board of Education requiring two online classes for Idaho students to graduate from high school, committee Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, noted that lawmakers passed legislation last year in the "Students Come First" package calling for an online-learning high school graduation requirement. Because of that, he said, "Testimony on the thought of 'no online courses' is not appropriate." Instead, he said, the committee will hear testimony only on the details of the board's rule.
Looking ahead to the November 2012 general election, Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said there will be three referenda on the ballot on the “Students Come First” school reform plan. “Folks should remember that a 'yes' vote would be in favor of the legislation that was passed by the Legislature dealing with Students Come First,” Ysursa told JFAC. “If you're against the legislation and do not like it and wish that it be repealed, then the person would cast a 'no' vote. I think it's going to be pretty clear”/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise.
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Question: Have you already made up your mind re: how you're going to vote on the referendum against Tom Luna's education reform that will be on the November ballot?
As part of its series "Grading the Digital School," the New York Times has taken a look at Idaho's school technology reforms, in an article headlined "Teachers Resist High-Tech Push in Idaho Schools." Reports the Times, "This change is part of a broader shift that is creating tension — a tension that is especially visible in Idaho but is playing out across the country. Some teachers, even though they may embrace classroom technology, feel policy makers are thrusting computers into classrooms without their input or proper training. And some say they are opposed to shifting money to online classes and other teaching methods whose benefits remain unproved." You can read the full article here.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna came under fire during the debate over his education reform package because some critics of the plan say he didn’t mention it during his run for re-election just months prior. Luna says he has been talking about reforms for years and that his record shows as much. The Republican superintendent also talked about his plans to fight three referenda that could overturn the laws in his reform packages. Over the course of the hearings dedicated to Luna’s legislation, several critics and detractors expressed dismay that the superintendent didn’t talk about his plan to reshape Idaho’s public school system in his 2010 re-election run/Dustin Hurst, Idaho Reporter. More here.
Question: Can anyone out there recall Superintendent Tom Luna mentioned his radical education reforms prior to the 2010 general election? Anyone?
Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna said today that he's not yet decided whether he'll revise his budget proposal for public schools for next year to increase funding for professional development, as recommended by a 38-member technology task force today. Luna noted that he supported the recommendation, which was approved unanimously. Luna said his "Students Come First" school reform plan already contemplates an ongoing commitment of nearly $4 million to professional development for teachers each year. "It's historic amounts," he said. "What we've learned is that we need to make sure that we have enough revenue, because if we don't do proper amounts and the proper kinds of professional development, then Students Come First will not be as successful as we envision."
Stefani Cook, chair of the Classroom Technology Integration subcommittee of the task force and Idaho's 2011 teacher of the year, said, "From a teacher's standpoint, the professional development will be the key to the success of Students Come First." She said, "We also know that the most effective professional development is teachers teaching other teachers. If I'm using technology in my classroom, if I can share that with the other teachers in my building, that is so successful." She added, "Of course more funding would most definitely be needed and most definitely be helpful, but we are very thankful for the funding that is in the formula right now."
Luna, who gathered with the four subcommittee chairs to talk about the recommendations after the panel unanimously approved all of them, said, "This group is not window-dressing." Added Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, who chaired the "One-to-One Governance" subcommittee, "These recommendations come with such a great amount of thought and work and effort that I think we would be foolish to ignore them. The learning that has taken place here is profound. … I think that the Legislature will definitely pay attention.
Luna said the task force's work is giving him confidence as the state approaches a 2012 referendum vote on whether to dump the whole Students Come First program. "Not every student has had access to the same technology, the same types of information and learning opportunities - we've accomplished that through Students Come First," he said. "Just as this committee came to that realization, I think the more people see these laws being implemented and the positive effect they have, that come November of 2012, I'm very confident the voters of Idaho will say this is the path we need to stay on." Click below for a full report on today's recommendations from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.
The "Students Come First" technology task force has voted unanimously in favor of the recommendations from its first subcommittee, on "One-to-One Governance and Instructional Integration," without discussion.
One the second one, the "Classroom Technology Integration" subcommittee, Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, offered a substitute motion, which was seconded by Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, to add that the task force recommends that the Legislature "consider increasing funding for professional development," and also to ask Idaho's colleges of education to work to assure that pre-service training includes classroom technology integration.
"I think that this report is really good, but there is a problem with adequate funding," Jaquet said. Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, said, "State dollars are very few and very precious." All the task force can do is recommend, he said. "We certainly can't try to commit the Legislature to spending them." State schools Superintendent Tom Luna said the "Students Come First" plan anticipated spending nearly $4 million a year on professional development. But, he said, "We've learned from other states that a critical component of the successful implementation of technology is professional development, and ongoing professional development." Jaquet's motion then won unanimous approval.
The task force then approved the third and fourth subcommittees' recommendations unanimously. "This has been historic work, and I'm very pleased with the work of the committee," Luna said.
Andy Grover, Melba School District superintendent, is giving the final subcommittee report to the Students Come First technology task force, this one on online learning implementation. Grover said his panel recommends that funding for online courses paid out to providers through "fractional ADA" should be by credit hour. It's also backing the idea of an online portal where parents could see what online classes are available for their students. "Something we've spent a ton of time on was talking about the quality of an online course … what makes it a good online course," he said. The panel sent out a request for information to more than 4,000 online course providers. "We don't know exactly what kind of feedback we're going to get from these different entities, but we do know that there is some interest brewing out there on it," he said. "That's exciting for us."
The subcommittee also is calling for a review by the state Department of Education of the differences in funding between online courses and regular courses.
Idaho should get the same laptop computer for all students and teachers statewide, Jayson Ronk, chair of the Platform, Specifications and Procurement subcommittee of the technology task force, told the task force this morning. "Our recommendations I think are fairly straightforward … on this device and procuring it," said Ronk, vice president of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry business lobbying group. "We did want to make a a recommendation that it be a laptop rather than a pad. … We believe that a laptop is the best way to go right now. That does not lock us in forever, but we think for this go-round that's the best option."
The group also is calling for a managed service to provide and maintain the computers, under the "one throat to choke model. Said Ronk, "It's statewide for the simple purchasing power for the state." The subcommittee also concurred with the first subcommittee that phase-in should be to entire high schools, rather than one grade level at a time.
Stefani Cook, chair of the Classroom Technology Integration subcommittee of the technology task force and 2011 Idaho teacher of the year, said her panel recommends developing a "comprehensive plan clearly explaining and linking the various components of Students Come First and the timeline for its implementation," addressing one-to-one computers, wireless Internet, classroom technology integration, online learning, the state's new longitudinal data system, Schoolnet, common core state standards, teacher and administrator evaluation, student assessment and more. "If there's not a comprehensive plan, how will this ever come together?" Cook asked.
The group also is recommending more than tripling professional development hours for teachers within the school calendar; and distributing technology integration funds to districts based on the state's school funding formula on a specific schedule, with the largest payments coming in the fall and smaller ones in the spring.
Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, expressed concern about increasing professional development hours that take teachers out of the classroom from a maximum of 22 hours to a maximum of 72 hours. "I'm always concerned about the number of classroom hours that a teacher really isn't in the classroom," Jaquet said. Cook responded, "To effectively integrate technology, teachers are going to have to learn how to do it, but they're going to need some time." She said the additional training will make the teachers more effective when they are with students.
Linda Clark, Meridian schools superintendent, questioned how districts could pay for it. "The bottom line is we currently have no resources to deliver this," she said. Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, said, "That would represent a considerable financial commitment on the part of the state if we were to fund that." Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, called it "a key piece of whether this succeeds or fails."
The "Students Come First" technology task force has four subcommittees: "One-to-One Governance and Instructional Integration," with the "one-to-one" referring to the goal of providing one "mobile compputing device" for every student; "Classroom Technology Integration;" "Platform, Specifics and Procurement;" and "Online Learning Implementation."
State Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, chairman of the "One-to-One" subcommittee, was the first to present his panel's recommendations this morning. They include having all schools provide face-to-face parent training as a required measure before students are allowed to take their new school-issued laptop computers home. "Let's engage the parents in this process," he said. The subcommittee also is recommending that districts establish policies for use of the computers, covering everything from Internet filtering to appropriate use; suggests an insurance fee for students to pay; and recommends a different rollout of the laptop program: Instead of going first to all 9th graders in the state, they'd go first to a third of the state's school districts, so that all high school grade levels in those districts would get them at once.
That could create problems with the new requirement for online courses, DeMordaunt noted. Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, said he thought that would be a problem, as the state shouldn't require online courses for kids who don't yet have computers. If the state goes that route, the Legislature should change the online course requirement to phase it in in a way that matches the computer rollout, Goedde said.
After six months of meetings, lots of presentations and visits to schools across the country, the 38-member "Students Come First" technology task force is meeting this morning to hear - and vote on - the recommendations from each of its subcommittees, on how to implement new technology initiatives in Idaho schools, including phasing in providing a laptop computer for every Idaho high school student and teacher and a new focus on online learning. "The work that has been done here is historic, and it's definitely unprecedented in its scope and in its focus," said state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, the task force chairman and the architect of the "Students Come First" reform plan. "Every member of this committee brings a different background and a different opinion, but we all had the same goal, and that is to assure that we're preparing our students for the 21st century world that they'll live in."
Before beginning the subcommittee reports, Luna went over the budget request that he's prepared for public schools for next year. "There is good news in this budget proposal, because it's the first time in a number of years that we've been able to request an increase and justify it," Luna said. He's calling for a 5.1 percent increase in state funding for schools next year, including additional state funds to pay for the laptops and a new teacher performance-pay bonus plan; the Students Come First law, passed by lawmakers this year, calls for cutting teacher pay to fund those items. "This budget backfills that so that there will not be a decrease in salary-based apportionment," Luna said.
The entire Students Come First plan, which also includes removing most collective bargaining rights from teachers, is up for a vote in November of 2012 in a referendum, which could repeal it.
State Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath said at this point, there are only two "tweaks" to the "Students Come First" school reform legislation that are in the works, both involving a clause of SB 1184 that permits high school students who complete all graduation requirements by the end of their junior year to take dual-credit courses and earn college credit in their senior year at state expense, up to 36 credits. One change would clarify that those students' junior-year math courses would fulfill a requirement to take a math class in the final year of high school. The other, propose by some school districts and parents, would permit students who finish all graduation requirements the first semester of their senior year to take part in the program for their second semester.
"There could be a few changes other than that," McGrath said. "These are the only two I'm aware of that have been discussed and that we know we'll bring forward."
Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said any "tweaks" that lawmakers enact to the "Students Come First" school reform plan in the coming legislative session will be minor, and won't affect the upcoming November 2012 referendum vote on the package. "We don't want to affect the referendum," Hill said. "They had 40,000 signatures to put it on the ballot. We owe the people the right to vote on that. We're not going to sabotage that."
Hill said he's conferring with the Idaho Attorney General's office to make sure any proposed legislation doesn't affect the referendum vote. He said the possible "tweaks" would come from state schools Supt. Tom Luna and Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, who sponsored the original package last year, "some small things they want to do to make it work better."
During the "Students Come First" school technology task force meeting today, a new wrinkle emerged as far as the impact on school district finances of the new focus on online education. In response to a request from the Boise School District's business manager about how many times a district will have to fund an online provider if the student doesn't pass the course, state Department of Education official Jason Hancock said, "Essentially, right now, if a student is in a brick-and-mortar situation and they take a course and fail it, we still fund the district." He said the full payment districts will be required to make to online course providers - two-thirds of the "average daily attendance" funding the district receives from the state for that student for a class period - will be divided into two parts, with the first part to be paid to the provider on the student's enrollment in the online class, and the second only upon the student's successful completion of the class.
If a student failed, the first payment would have to be repeated if the student took the class again (it wouldn't be refunded), and there's no limit on retries. Hancock said, "Through putting together statewide contracts with these online course providers, we can actually build into the contract certain performance criteria, so that if students are being unsuccessful in these courses, if these are not high-quality courses and an excessive number of students are failing the course, we can terminate the contract." However, the reform plan also allows students or parents to choose courses from any approved provider, not just those in the state contracts, and trigger payments from their school district.
Now that Idaho has approved a requirement that high school students take at least two credits online, officials are working on plans for a statewide contract expected to include a list of providers for districts to choose from when selecting virtual courses, the Associated Press reports. Idaho will also phase in mobile computers, such as a laptops or iPads, for every high school teacher and student while making online courses a graduation requirement under sweeping new education changes backed by public schools chief Tom Luna and the governor.
A task force aimed at helping implement Luna's plan to increase technology in the classroom met today at the state Capitol. Luna told the AP the goal is to provide schools with a list of online course providers approved and contracted by the state to offer classes to Idaho students. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner, including concerns about how school district funding will be impacted by the new online class requirement.
During the task force's lunch break today at the J.R. Williams Building across from the Capitol, members heard presentations from Discover Technology, Lorna Finman's Rathdrum-based non-profit organization that promotes science, technology, engineering and mathematics education in schools. Finman brought along her "STAR Discovery Bus," a mobile lab for teaching kids about science and math. "It can go anywhere," Finman said. She said she has another, larger bus in the works, since this one can only accommodate about 15 students at a time. "We're not asking for any money from the schools," she said. "This is all privately funded by business people."
As task force members toured the bus, which includes touchpads and work stations for kids, Dennis Kimberling told them, "The hands-on is the hook for the kids in the science and technology." Nearby, a full-sized robot named "DiscoTech" greeted people and carried on conversations; the remote controlled robot was built by kids in Discovery Technology's robotics programs, Finman said. Discovery Technology also holds summer robotics camps for kids in kindergarten through 12th grade and sponsors after-school robotics programs.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho — Idaho would become the first state to require students to take at least two credits online under a plan headed to Education officials for final approval. The state Board of Education is expected to consider the measure at a special meeting Thursday. The board gave the online requirement initial approval in September despite heavy opposition at public hearings this summer. Trustees collected more feedback during a 21-day public comment period last month. A majority of the commenters said Idaho shouldn't require online learning, according to board staff. Schools nationwide offer virtual classes, but just three states — Alabama, Florida and Michigan — have adopted rules since 2006 to require online learning, according to the International Association of K-12 Online Learning. Idaho would be the first to require two credits online.
Public comments on the State Board of Education's proposed new online class graduation requirement - requiring every Idaho high school student to take two online courses to graduate - are being accepted through next Wednesday, Oct. 26, at the state board's website here. Meanwhile, the state Department of Education also is taking public comments on several other new rules related to the "Students Come First" school reform legislation that passed this year.
The deadline for those comments also is Oct. 26. They include rules requiring school district negotiations with teachers unions to be conducted in open meetings; and requiring parent input and student achievement growth to be included in teacher evaluations. Comments on those rules, plus others regarding reinstatement of expired teaching certificates and modifications to the Dual Credit for Early Completers program, can be submitted on the department's website here.
The group behind the referendum campaign to challenge Idaho schools Superintendent Tom Luna’s “Students Come First” reform laws is launching a new project aimed at gathering ideas on how to make Idaho schools better. The volunteer group has dubbed its new project the “Great Idaho Schools Project,” and plans to incorporate the input into a report to be issued in January and distributed to school boards, administrators, state leaders and the public.
“We want to do what Mr. Luna, the Legislature, and Gov. Otter did not do: Involve a wide array of the public in a conversation about how to build great public schools,” said Mike Lanza, co-founder of Idaho Parents and Teachers Together. “We don’t know yet what we’ll hear from people,” Lanza said. “But we do believe that Idahoans want a more inclusive process than was employed by our elected leaders to determine the future direction of our public schools.” You can read my full Sunday column here at spokesman.com.
Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the issue that came up this week at the "Students Come First" school technology task force about funding for online classes - that a quirk of the new reform laws means that online course providers will get far more state money for providing classes to students in some Idaho school districts than in others. For example, an online provider sending a class to a high school student in Boise could tap roughly $210 for a one-semester online class from the Boise district's state funding stream, according to state estimates, while a provider sending the same online class to a student in Midvale could collect roughly $733 from that smaller district's state funding.
State schools Superintendent Tom Luna said he doesn't think the issue warrants amending the law, but he agreed today to bring the issue back next month for more discussion at the task force's November meeting.
A quirk of the "Students Come First" school reform law's complicated formula for shifting funds from school districts to online course providers means that the providers will get far more money for providing classes to students in some school districts than in others. For example, an online provider sending a class to a high school student in Boise could tap roughly $210 for a one-semester online class from the Boise district's state funding stream, while a provider sending the same online class to a student in Midvale could collect roughly $733 from that smaller district's state funding.
Here's why: The law, under this year's SB 1184, allows students or their parents to enroll a student in any approved online class, with or without their school district's permission. Then, the provider of the online class is entitled to two-thirds of that district's state funding for the student for that class, while the district keeps one-third, to cover its costs for providing a classroom, a proctor, or other fixed costs for the student, who likely would take the online class on campus during the school day. The formula is dubbed "fractional ADA;" it would apply unless the school district has a contract with the online provider setting a different payment amount.
The complicated formula through which Idaho sends state funds to school districts based on ADA, or average daily attendance, has many factors that cause it to vary by district, however. Those include the size of a school district, to reflect economies of scale in larger districts and fixed costs in smaller districts; the distribution of students across different age categories from kindergarten to high school; and the experience level of the district's teachers and administrators, which also triggers differences in state funding.
The result: For high-school age students, state funding per ADA varies from a low of $4,334 per student per year at the Idaho Virtual Academy, closely followed by the next-lowest Caldwell School District, at $4,757 per student, Vallivue at $4,780 and Kuna at $4,789; to a high of $17,595 per Midvale high school student. The South Lemhi school district gets $17,470 per high school student; Culdesac gets $16,897. (All these figures, by the way, are based on state Department of Education finance guru Tim Hill's calculations for the 2009-2010 school year, so they're not the absolute latest, but Hill considers them a good basis for comparison.)
The state's largest school districts are on the low end for ADA. The Meridian School District gets just $4,843 per high-school student; Boise gets $5,047; and Coeur d'Alene, Lakeland and Post Falls school districts all come in just under $5,000.
The issue came up at the "Students Come First" technology task force meeting today, as state Department of Education official Jason Hancock demonstrated an example: In Middleton, an online provider would get $191 for a one-semester high school course; if the class costs more, parents would have to make up the difference. Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, who serves on the task force, said, "So I think if I were a provider, I would first concentrate on these districts where this credit is worth a lot more money. I wonder if you've explored the idea of a cap."
Hancock replied, "That's how the legislation reads. It's just built around essentially what an ADA is worth … and it is different from district to district." He said that's why a subcommittee of the task force is looking into statewide contracts with online course providers, to secure lower rates for smaller districts that are more comparable to what larger districts would pay.
State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna said, "We'll learn a lot once these laws are in place, and I think that's what we want to do, is learn from actual application of the laws, not make changes based on what we think may happen. … I don't think we've seen a perfect law yet."
Hill said most students are likely to take online classes for which their districts sign contracts. "None of us know how many families are going to say, 'I understand what you're offering, district, I'm just not interested. I demand for my child to go take these other classes.'"
Hancock said that provision was included in the "Students Come First" law as "another example of providing parents with more choices." He said, "Parents know best what is best for their children."
Idaho's school technology task force, charged with figuring out how to implement plans for buying laptop computers or other devices for every Idaho high school student and teacher and implementing state school Superintendent Tom Luna's "Students Come First" reform plan's new focus on online learning, is meeting today and tomorrow in the Capitol Auditorium; you can listen live here. The task force is now hearing a presentation from Professor James Basham of the University of Kansas on "Universal Design for Learning;" you can see the full agenda here.
Among things that have come up so far today: Three vendors have expressed interest in Idaho's statewide contract for the computing devices so far, as the state moves through its "request for information" phase prior to issuing a request for proposals. Also, a subcommittee of the task force is developing a request for information for a statewide contract for online courses. Approved online courses would have to be taught by a teacher with an Idaho certificate, but the teacher could be located elsewhere. Later this morning, the task force is scheduled to hear a presentation on technology and services for the deaf and blind, and discuss the controversial "fractional ADA" funding formula in the reform law that shifts a portion of a school's per-student state funding (known as ADA, or Average Daily Attendance) to an online course provider if that student chooses to take an online course from the provider.
Fourth District Judge Timothy Hansen has ruled against the Idaho Education Association, upholding the constitutionality of SB 1108, the piece of state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna's “Students Come First” three-part school reform package that limits teachers' collective bargaining rights, ends an early-retirement incentive program and makes other changes. The IEA sued, saying the bill unconstitutionally violates existing contracts, in part by retroactively ending them; Hansen ruled that it imposes “substantial impairment” on existing contracts, but that it's not unconstitutional because it does so for a “legitimate public purpose,” in this case, giving school boards more power in bargaining with teachers. He also rejected arguments that the bill was unconstitutional for addressing more than a single subject/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.
Fourth District Judge Timothy Hansen has ruled against the Idaho Education Association, upholding the constitutionality of SB 1108, the piece of state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna's "Students Come First" three-part school reform package that limits teachers' collective bargaining rights, ends an early-retirement incentive program and makes other changes. The IEA sued, saying the bill unconstitutionally violates existing contracts, in part by retroactively ending them; Hansen ruled that it imposes "substantial impairment" on existing contracts, but that it's not unconstitutional because it does so for a "legitimate public purpose," in this case, giving school boards more power in bargaining with teachers. He also rejected arguments that the bill was unconstitutional for addressing more than a single subject.
The IEA said it will appeal the decision to the Idaho Supreme Court. "The bills wrongly curtail the rights of teachers, the IEA, and its local education associations, and they rob local school districts’ ability to make the best decisions for students," the IEA said in a statement. Paul Stark, IEA general counsel, said, “All involved anticipated that whether it was a win, lose, or draw, Judge Hansen’s decision would be appealed and ultimately decided by the Idaho Supreme Court. The Idaho Education Association appreciates Judge Hansen’s expedited decision that allows the parties to have the issues presented to the Supreme Court as soon as possible. The Idaho Education Association further looks forward to the November 2012 election when Idaho voters will finally have a say in overturning the harmful education laws passed this year.”
A referendum in the 2012 general election will give Idaho voters the choice of rejecting all three pieces of the reform package; the others shift funds from salaries to technology boosts, impose a merit-pay bonus system and bring a new focus on online learning. You can read the judge's decision here, and click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.
You can read my full story here at spokesman.com on how Idaho officials on a task force planning for the state's purchase of computers for every high school student have had to cancel a trip to Redmond, Wash. to meet with Microsoft officials, after concerns were raised that the trip would violate state purchasing rules. A state purchasing officer told the task force members, "Don't discuss this procurement with vendors."
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna persuaded lawmakers this year to pass his "Students Come First" school reform legislation, which shifts state school funding from salaries to technology boosts, limits collective bargaining rights for teachers, imposes a new merit-pay bonus system and calls for new emphasis on online learning. The plan includes phasing in the purchase of a "mobile computing device" - a laptop computer, tablet, or similar device - for every Idaho high school student and teacher, using funds that now go to salaries. The entire plan is up for a referendum vote in November of 2012 to ask if voters want to dump it, after opponents gathered thousands of signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot.
In the meantime, Luna is continuing with starting up the program. The task force meets through tomorrow; it has additional two-day meetings scheduled each month through December.
The "Students Come First" Technology Task Force will take up funding timelines, the timelines for putting out the requests to vendors for computers, and hear from Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, on the results of a "mobile computing device" survey, as its meeting continues this morning; you can listen live here. It'll also hear a "site visit protocol presentation," then break into subcommittees for the rest of the day today. Tomorrow, the subcommittees will continue meeting from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m., then the full task force will reconvene from 10:30 to 11:30, and the two-day meeting will close with an executive committee meeting from 11:45 to 1, at which the subcommittees will present their results.
State Superintendent of School Tom Luna told state purchasing officer Sarah Hilderbrand, "We were invited by a vendor to go to that vendor's location" and hear from "a parade of these international experts" on online education, "to basically be their guests. We would travel at our expense, not at their expense, but it raised a lot of red flags to the point where we at the last minute canceled it. I think they understood. I think they were frustrated, we were frustrated. … How do we do the homework to make sure that the recommendations that we move forward are going to, that the water's going to get to the end of the row?"
Hilderbrand responded, "I can tell you from a procurement perspective, we discourage site visits when we are even at the beginning of the procurement process. In the last 15 years I've seen too many projects derailed by just the appearance of preferring one vendor over another."
Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, commented, "It's getting grayer all the time."
Luna said, "I've had more than one vendor make it clear to me that they are watching this very, very closely, and they'll take action" if they think they're not getting a fair shot at "providing products and services to the state." Luna said he doesn't want the task force to go to all this work, only to end up in a protracted lawsuit over the procurement process.
Several committee members are raising concerns about warnings to school technology task force members to avoid contacts with computer vendors. "Certainly the members of this committee are not the experts and need to be looking to the outside community, whether it be schools or vendors or research," Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, told state purchasing officer Sarah Hilderbrand. "I think you're suggesting that we put on blinders."
Hilderbrand explained that if a particular senator met with two vendors, but not with any others, that wouldn't be acceptable in the purchasing process. "We want to make sure that it is above board, we want to make sure that there isn't any appearance that we're getting certain information, but we're not talking to this vendor over here," she said.
The "Students Come First Technology" Task Force has opened a two-day meeting this morning in the Capitol Auditorium; you can listen live here. State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna urged the members to focus on "features of a high-quality online course" and bring recommendations forward tomorrow. Now, the panel is hearing a presentation from Sarah Hilderbrand, purchasing officer for the Division of Purchasing, on the "do's and don't's" of the state purchasing process. "This is one of the most important and timely presentations we're going to receive," Luna told the group, which is making recommendations for the "Students Come First" plan of purchasing a laptop computer at state expense for every Idaho high school teacher and student. He said the committee needs to know "what kind of vendor contact you as a committee member can have, what is appropriate for vendors in their relationship with us. … I don't want there to be any gray area."
Luna said, "We've already had a couple of situations that we had to deal with because we did not understand the do's and don't's. Many of us had a trip planned to Washington (state) that we had to basically cancel, because there was too many gray areas in what we would be doing while we were there, who we would be visiting with."
He noted that many representatives of vendors are in the audience this morning, and he cautioned them to listen, too. Hilderbrand told the committee, "Don't discuss this procurement with vendors. We want to make sure everybody has the same information. … It could potentially stop the whole project if there is misinformation out there."