Latest from The Spokesman-Review
Outgoing Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna had some parting words at his final state Land Board meeting today, as he ends his eight years in office. “Numerous times a year, I often press this board for larger and larger distributions (to schools ) – and there’s a reason for that,” he said. “These dollars that are provided to our public schools provide us the opportunity to go a little bit above and beyond the ability of the Legislature, and so I thought I’d walk you through just a couple programs.” The state’s endowment, overseen by the Land Board and the state Department of Lands, provides schools $32 million to $34 million year, Luna said. “So what do you get for $32 million to $34 million dollars?”
He pointed to the Idaho Space and Aerospace Scholars program, through which 500 Idaho students have now attended space camp and worked with NASA; state funding for all Idaho high school juniors to take the SAT and sophomores to take the PSAT; $16 million in performance pay for teachers this year through district leadership awards; advanced programs through which tens of thousands of students have earned college credit while still in high school this year; and the state’s math initiative.
“And while we’re always looking for more and I would encourage you to continue to pursue to find ways to increase the distribution, I would just thank you for your dedication to this fund and to this endowment and the good that it’s brought to Idaho kids,” Luna said, “and here’s the evidence.”
Curious about his comments to the Times-News last week, I chatted today with state schools Superintendent Tom Luna about the race to replace him. Luna confirmed that he has not endorsed either candidate in the race – Republican Sherri Ybarra or Democrat Jana Jones.
“It’s likely or possible that a Democrat could win this race – I don’t think that’s news to anyone,” he said. Luna also said he met with GOP nominee Sherri Ybarra last week. “She ran a very non-traditional campaign in the primary. I’m assuming she’s taking a similar approach in the general,” Luna said. “But I will tell you that having met her and talked with her, I think she can win, but more people are going to have to get to know her the same way I have. And I’ve only got to know her recently.”
Luna compared Ybarra’s prospects to his own first run for the position, when he lost, but came back four years later and won, “because I had a network in place, I had name I.D. built.” He said, “It’s not uncommon for a Democrat to hold this position. … I don’t think anyone would assume that this will be a cake walk for a Republican.”
Luna, who has served two terms as state superintendent and is the first non-educator to hold the post, said, “I think I have accomplished a lot, and it hasn’t been without controversy, obviously. But I think we have accomplished a lot and I leave office pleased with the results that we’ve seen.” He pointed to improvements in technology in Idaho schools, high school students taking college-level courses, increasing numbers of charter schools, and changes in how teachers are compensated to include factors beyond education and years of experience. “I specifically ran on those things, and we’ve accomplished them,” Luna said. “The bottom line is by every academic measure, our schools and our students are doing better than they were eight years ago when I came into office.”
He said, “I hope the next state superintendent is looking to make a difference and not make a career. I hope they’re bold. I hope they’ll stand up to people that support them and work with people that don’t. It won’t be easy … but it’ll be the most rewarding experience of their life. That’s how I feel about my time in office.”
I’ll have a story on this year’s race for superintendent in Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.
Both candidates for state superintendent of schools are questioning outgoing Supt. Tom Luna’s decision to award $151,000 in "retention bonuses" to senior managers — including four managers who have since left the state’s payroll, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News. Nearly one-fifth of Luna’s bonuses went to staffers who’ve now left. GOP candidate Sherri Ybarra said the move was “not good public policy,” and Democratic candidate Jana Jones said the magnitude of the bonuses seemed out of line with the salary incentives available to teachers. You can read Richert’s full report online here.
Idaho's schools superintendent is defending big pay raises he gave his top staffers earlier this year as temporary hikes that are part of a strategy to ease the transition for his successor, the Lewiston Tribune reports. Those who received raises include Tom Luna's former deputy chief of staff, Jason Hancock, whose wage was bumped from $44.40 per hour to $65.23 per hour. Former communications director Melissa McGrath received a raise from $36 per hour to $49.54. Both Hancock and McGrath have since left the Idaho Department of Education, but most of the 22 people who also received raises remain, Luna told the Tribune. Click below for a full report from the AP and the Trib.
Tom Luna, Idaho state superintendent of schools, is making an offer to both of the candidates vying to succeed him: The day after the election, he’s offering an office next to his to whichever one is elected to allow the next superintendent to start the transition. “They can be here every day, they can attend senior staff meetings with me, go to meetings with the governor and legislators,” Luna said. “I have positions I’ve not filled. If they want to identify candidates to fill those positions, I’ll hire them. I want this transition to be very smooth. I think that’s what’s best for education, and once the people of Idaho have spoken, let’s move forward.”
Luna, a Republican, said his offer applies equally to both candidates: Democrat Jana Jones, and Republican Sherri Ybarra. “They’ll kind of get a couple months under their belt, knowing who’s at the department, have the beginnings of a working relationship with the governor and Legislature and other stakeholders,” Luna said. “I think that would be very valuable, to have a very smooth transition so that we can keep education moving in the right direction.”
Idaho schools chief Tom Luna has submitted a proposed budget for public schools for next year that reflects a 6.9 percent increase in state funding. The budget proposal calls for $23 million to start on a new teacher career ladder, which Luna says will then need an additional $40 million a year in each of the next four years; an increase in operational funding to school districts for basic expenses next year of $10 million; $9 million for classroom technology; $21.6 million for professional development for teachers; and restoring $10 million cut from funding for maintenance and safe and drug-free schools.
All state agencies are required by law to submit budget proposals for the next fiscal year to the governor’s office by Sept. 1. Gov. Butch Otter will propose a budget to lawmakers when they convene in January, and they’ll decide on the details; by then, Luna will be out of office and the new superintendent will be either Democrat Jana Jones or Republican Sherri Ybarra.
“We’re meeting our priorities and fulfilling our promises with this budget,” Luna said in a statement. “This budget proposal follows priorities set forth by Gov. Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education.” Otter had called for phasing in the task force’s recommendations, which total roughly $350 million in increased annual school funding all told, over five to six years; lawmakers approved a 5.1 percent increase in school funding this year as part of the first year of the effort.
Luna’s proposal includes statutory requirements to accommodate expected increases in student population and costs; without those, it reflects a 5.8 percent increase in state general funds. Luna’s proposed $10 million increase in operational funds would bring operational funds per classroom unit next year up to $22,885, up from $22,401 this year. But that’s still well below the 2008-09 level of $25,696 per classroom unit. Otter's task force called for restoring those funds at $16.5 million a year; last year, lawmakers exceeded that with a $35 million restoration. You can see Luna’s figures here.
Click below for a full report from AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi.
Idaho state schools chief Tom Luna will start his new job as a vice president with Project Lead the Way, a national education non-profit, on Jan. 1, 2015, according to the project’s spokeswoman, Jennifer Cahill. The non-profit, which provides STEM curriculum and training to schools nationwide, is based in Indianapolis, but Cahill said it has more than 50 “remote team members” who work from home in their home states; that’s what Luna will do as well. Luna will oversee four regional directors who will live and work in their regions, and all will travel as needed to Indianapolis.
Luna’s position – and the team he’ll head – is a new one for the firm, Cahill said; it won’t involve any direct lobbying. Instead, it’ll be focused on policy, advocacy and research, aimed at identifying growth opportunities and barriers to growth for the group’s programs. The new team, she said, will develop “general policy concepts and advance those through informational pieces.”
While Project Lead the Way began as a foundation-funded nonprofit, it no longer receives foundation funding, Cahill said, instead operating on the fees that schools pay to participate in the programs, which vary from $750 to $3,000 a year. In addition, it has numerous corporate partners, who give grants directly to the schools to help with the cost of the program; they include Chevron, Lockheed-Martin, Cargill, Toyota, General Motors, Dow Chemical, Amgen and more.
Idaho state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna has accepted a new job with a national education non-profit focused on science and technology courses and teacher training, starting in early 2015. Luna will be vice president of policy, advocacy and research for Project Lead the Way, a provider of STEM programs and teacher training; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
"My focus and priority today continues to be the children of Idaho,” Luna said in a statement. “There are several major initiatives that need continued attention such as teacher quality and pay through a new tiered system of licensure and a well-funded career ladder, technology implementation to increase access throughout Idaho, dual credit opportunities for all high school students and ensuring students are reading proficiently by the time they exit third grade. These are my highest priorities as I finish my second-term as state superintendent of public instruction.”
Luna will be based in Idaho in his new job, according to his office. “It was really important to Superintendent Luna that he gets to stay in Idaho,” said spokesman Brady Moore. Luna will be “creating his own team” for Project Lead the Way, Moore said.
In his new job, Luna will oversee a team focused on federal, state, and local policies, as well as research initiatives that support STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) growth across the United States. He’ll oversee four regional directors and a team of policy analysts and researchers.
According to its website, Project Lead the Way is the leading provider of K-12 STEM programs to schools in the United States, serving more than 5,000 elementary, middle and high schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It started in 1986 in upstate New York when high school teacher Richard Blais began offering pre-engineering and digital electronics classes to his students; he received support from the Liebich family’s Charitable Leadership Foundation in 1997 to expand the high school engineering program to 12 schools in upstate New York, and it grew from there.
Asked if the organization currently does business with the state Department of Education, Moore said, “Currently Project Lead the Way does not contract with Idaho at the state department level. They may do some work with schools independently, but on a statewide level, we haven’t worked with them at all, and we will continue to not work with them.”
Idaho Education News has a full report here, including these details: Project Lead the Way curriculum is currently offered in Boise, Nampa, Meridian, Kuna, Caldwell and Fremont school districts; and Idaho’s Division of Professional-Technical Education website encourages teachers to offer the nonprofit’s programs. Annual fees range from $750-$3,000 per school; the organization also has corporate sponsors.
Jason Hancock, a top aide to Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, is headed to South Dakota, where he’ll start Aug. 5 as the director of that state’s legislative research council. Hancock worked closely with Luna on his signature “Students Come First” package of school reform laws, which voters rejected in 2012; prior to joining Luna’s staff, he worked as a budget and policy analyst for the Idaho Legislature. The Associated Press in Pierre, S.D. reports that Hancock will make $125,000 a year in his new job – more than the state’s governor, who makes $104,002. The South Dakota Legislature’s executive board told the AP it raised the salary for the position to draw a strong candidate and strengthen the legislative branch. Hancock holds a master’s degree in public administration from BSU and a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of the Pacific.
Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna today announced the 15 schools throughout the state that will receive a share of $3 million in technology grants for pilot projects next year, but noted that 99 schools applied for the grants, and if they’d all gotten what they sought, the total would have been more than $26 million; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. “I think the answer has to be a statewide effort, and I think you have to tap into the economy of scale in order to make this available for all,” Luna said. “I think what we’ve demonstrated through the pilots is that there is a demand for one-to-one environments … in the classroom.”
Many, but not all, of the successful grant applicants plan to use the money to provide every student with a high-tech device, whether it’s a Chromebook, an iPad, a laptop computer or a combination of school-provided and bring-your-own devices. Luna’s signature “Students Come First” plan, which voters rejected in 2012, sought in part to provide every high school teacher and student in the state with a laptop computer.
Luna noted that the technology already has changed significantly since he made his proposal. “I still believe that there has to be a statewide solution, or we just create winners and losers,” he said. But he said that could take a variety of forms, from providing more per-student funding to school districts for technology to offering several state-level contracts that districts could access at their option to take advantage of economies of scale. “This demand is not going to go away, whether I’m here or anyone else is here,” said Luna, who is leaving office when his second term ends at the end of the year.
A roomful of excited school officials from throughout the state was at the State Department of Education offices today to receive the grant awards. They range from a high of $516,619 for South Middle School in Nampa, which will use the money to purchase computers, Apple TVs, projectors, I-Pads for every teacher, video technology for classrooms, and to open school two to three nights a week to allow parents and students at the large, largely low-income school to come in and work online with a teacher’s help; to a low of $14,825, for Meridian Technical Charter High School, to offer 25 students with difficulties associated with the autism spectrum access to brain games on iPads designed to enhance their learning.
Kathy Baker, principal of Ponderosa Elementary School in Post Falls, said her school will use its $250,000 grant to “gamefy” learning by allowing students to work individually and earn digital badges when they move up to higher levels; the gaming will revolve around the Idaho Core Standards and include reading, writing and math, with options both for those who struggle and for advanced learners. The project includes Chromebooks and accessories. “We’re just thrilled to pieces,” Baker said. “We know that we have to do something different for kids.”
Forrest M. Bird Charter School in Sandpoint is getting $317,516, and will provide a laptop computer for every student and teacher, grades 6-12, iPads for special education classes, projection presentation systems and training. Mary Jensen, education leader at the school, said, “We’re just really excited for being able to innovate in our classrooms through the use of technology.”
Cascade Junior-Senior High School will use its $38,094 grant to integrate school-provided Chromebooks with students’ bring-your-own devices to bridge the “digital divide” between its lower and higher income students. Fruitland Elementary School will expand a pilot project that used iPads in second-grade classrooms school-wide, with its $345,230 grant. Lapwai Middle-High School’s $32,986 grant will provide a high-tech projection system in every classroom to turn regular white boards into interactive learning surfaces. Mullan Trail Elementary’s $204,465 grant will install and enhance WiFi and network infrastructure, purchase Chromebooks, tablets, management systems and accessories, to turn the elementary school into a “Google School,” where allow students and teachers can use apps to interact as they work on documents. Click below for a full list of the grant recipients.
According to Idaho’s top public education official, the Gem State would face no cuts in federal funding should it choose to end its participation in the nationwide Common Core academic standards agenda.
However, in states where policymakers have either abandoned or augmented their participation with the national standards agenda, the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) has used a federal law from last decade—the “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) Act—to threaten those states over the appropriation of millions of federal education dollars.
“We did not receive federal dollars from Washington when we adopted the Common Core standards,” said Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna. In an exclusive interview with IdahoReporter.com in February of this year, Luna added that “we would not lose federal funding if we chose other standards.”
Yet in both California and Indiana, the USDOE has leveled threats in the face of those states altering their intended paths with Common Core. Last year when California considered the possibility of suspending student testing for a year (Common Core entails annual assessment testing), the USDOE reacted by threatening to withhold some $15 million in administrative funding from the state. More here. IdahoReporter
A Mountain Home educator is jumping into the open Republican race for state schools superintendent. Sherri Ybarra says she will focus on three areas in her campaign: providing students with 21st century abilities, not overtesting students, and providing students with a safe and supportive environment. “I have proven myself as an effective leader with the commitment and vision it takes to make positive changes in education, and I’ve done this by being hands-on, experienced, dedicated and hard-working,” Ybarra said in a news release Wednesday. Ybarra has worked in several educational capacities over 17 years, as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, federal programs director and curriculum director/Kevin Richert, IdahoED NEWS. More here.
Question: A GOP candidate for superintendent of education with hands-on experience as a teacher, principal & administrator? What will they think of next?
Hours before Tom Luna made his surprise announcement that he would not seek re-election, Gov. Butch Otter placed a pre-dawn phone call asking the schools chief to hold off. State Superintendent Tom Luna, left, announces his decision not to run for re-election on Jan. 27. Luna is joined by (left, to right) his wife Cindy, Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill and Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde. “He wanted to know if I had really thought it through,” Luna said. “The governor didn’t say, ‘I want to talk you out of this.’ What he said is, ‘Can we take more time to discuss this?’” The night before, on Sunday, Luna called Otter and key lawmakers to tell them he would step down when his term ends. After staying up most of the night thinking about it, Otter wasn’t sure if Luna was making the right move/Clark Corbin, IdahoED News. More here. (AP file photo: Luna announces decision not to seek re-election)
- Tom Luna charts his exit strategy/Kevin Richert, IdahoED News
Question: Butch was ready to back Luna, despite all the controversy, the wifi snafu, and the rejection of Students Come First laws? Really?
If the federal government voids an Idaho broadband project contract, Idaho could be forced to pay back nearly $13.5 million to the feds, state Department of Administration director Teresa Luna said Thursday. Funding for Idaho’s high school broadband network is in indefinite “limbo,” as a federal contractor reviews the state contract. And based on the experience in Idaho school districts, this review could take months or years. Luna updated the Senate Education Committee on the Idaho Education Network’s funding plight Thursday afternoon — and urged lawmakers to support $14.45 million in supplemental funding to keep the program afloat through June 2015/Kevin Richert, The EDge. More here.
Question: $13.5M from Luna snafu. Possibly $27.4M from Treasurer Ron Crane snafu. Aren't Republicans suppose to be the party of fiscal responsibility? What's happening here?
Idaho Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said he would have supported state schools Supt. Tom Luna for re-election, but he understands Luna’s decision not to seek a third term. “I agree that certainly his efforts so far this legislative session have been characterized as an attempt to enhance his re-electability,” Goedde said. Now, Goedde said, “I think the superintendent is in a position that he can be more forceful in trying to see those (education task force) recommendations move forward.”
Luna has served two terms as state superintendent, the first non-educator ever to be elected to the post; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. He said he has no particular plans for after he leaves office. “I’ve got a business I can go back to,” he said. “I’m not making this decision today because I know what I’m going to do 11 months from now.”
Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna will not seek a third term, he announced this morning, saying he wants to take politics out of the process of putting into effect bipartisan school reforms recommended by a state task force. “I know it’s the right decision for me, for my family, and I know it’s the right decision for the children of Idaho,” Luna said. “I’ve never avoided a fight. I’ve always done what I thought was right.”
Luna was joined for his announcement by House Speaker Scott Bedke and Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, along with House Education Chairman Reed DeMordaunt and Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, all Republicans, along with Luna’s wife Cindy.
Two other Republican candidates, Randy Jensen of American Falls and John Eynon of Cottonwood, already have announced their candidacies in the GOP primary for superintendent; Democrat Jana Jones, whom Luna narrowly defeated in 2006, also is running for superintendent. Luna said he’s not yet endorsing anyone for the post. “I will tell you that the person I will support is the person who stands up and boldly proclaims their support for all 20 recommendations of the task force and their commitment to get them implemented,” he said.
Luna said, “I’m going to be working hard for the next 11 months, not being distracted with a campaign and everything that goes into that.” He said it was “obvious to me that bipartisan support is fragile,” and people might think anything he does to support the task force recommendations is meant to “give me a leg up in the election. … So I wanted to take that off the table.” He said, "You won't see me on a ballot anywhere in Idaho in this upcoming election."
Randy Jensen formally announced his candidacy for state Superintendent of Schools today as a Republican; from the state Capitol steps, the longtime middle school principal and former Fulbright scholar said, “I will make decisions based solely on what’s best for kids in Idaho. … Now is the time to have a proven educational leader lead our schools.”
The race is getting crowded; also this week, Cottonwood teacher John Eynon, an outspoken opponent of Common Core standards for student achievement, announced his candidacy in the GOP race. Jana Jones, a Democrat whom current GOP Superintendent Tom Luna narrowly defeated in 2006, is running again. Luna himself hasn’t yet announced whether he’ll seek a third term.
Jensen, 52, has been the principal at William Thomas Middle School for 25 years, after starting there as a teacher. “After 29 years … I still love kids as much as I did the first day,” he said. He introduced one of his former 5th grade students who’s now a Boise dentist.
Jensen holds a master’s and bachelor’s degrees in education from Idaho State University and certification to serve as a school district superintendent. Asked the main thing he’d like to accomplish if elected, he said, “I want the state Department of Education to be a service organization, where we really work closely with local school districts to make them the best they can be. Great schools are not created by federal or state mandates. Great schools are created at the local level.”
State schools Superintendent Tom Luna says he believes the state’s distribution and investment strategy for endowment funds is short-changing current public school students by focusing too much on future students. “Every year … we have 3,000 to 4,000 more students that we’re serving with that distribution,” he said. But the distribution has remained frozen at $31 million a year for five years, but for a one-time, extra $22 million distribution in 2010. “I think we need to take a hard look at if we’re sacrificing the benefit of the current beneficiary in the need to protect the future beneficiary,” Luna told the Land Board this morning. “We’ve accumulated a lot of cash and then our fund balances have increased … but the policies we have in place still haven’t resulted in the current beneficiaries seeing an increase. So I think they’re a bit out of whack.”
Luna noted that the state’s permanent endowment fund is invested 70 percent into volatile equities, and 30 percent into more secure bond funds. He said that’s appropriate for long-term funds, but said the earnings reserve funds, from which distributions are made, shouldn’t have the same split – they should be more secure, to guarantee distributions to schools and other endowment beneficiaries. Larry Johnson, endowment fund investment manager, responded, “I don’t think it would make much difference, because we’ve looked at this before. … We’ll certainly have an opportunity to look at it again.” He added, “We’re permanently intending to have reserves and a significant amount of reserves.”
The state is in the midst of an analysis of its investment strategies; Johnson said he’ll have results from that for the board in February.
With 11 school tech pilot projects just getting under way, lawmakers faced with decision on whether to fund more
Eleven Idaho schools are only a few months into their technology pilot projects, funded by a $3 million appropriation from the Legislature this year, but lawmakers will soon have to decide whether to put more money into such projects. Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert writes today that lawmakers will have some anecdotal evidence from the field when they arrive for their session in January, but test results may be scarce. Nevertheless, state Superintendent of Schools is requesting another $3 million. You can read Richert’s full report here, which includes an update on the projects around the state.
Idaho 4th graders scored very slightly below average in reading and math, but the state's 8th graders scored slightly above average in both, according to results from the Nation's Report Card, an every-other-year assessment that compares student achievement between states. Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna hailed the results, saying they show the impact of the state's efforts to focus on those areas. “I applaud Idaho’s eighth grade students for continuing to outpace their peers across the nation in reading and mathematics,” Luna said. “It is clear our investments in the Idaho Reading and Math Initiatives and the hard work of Idaho’s teachers are paying dividends to help in better preparing Idaho students for higher levels of reading and mathematics, especially when compared to their peers across the country.”
Luna said the report card also provides a preview of how Idaho students are faring compared to the more rigorous Idaho Core Standards, which the state adopted in 2011 but won't test students on until 2015. The results suggest that just 30 to 40 percent of Idaho students will be performing on grade level in reading and math, as measured under the higher standards. “It is not because our students woke up one day and were not as smart as they were the day before," Luna said in a statement. "It is because our students are working to meet a higher bar, learning at a higher level, and that is a good thing for every child and for their future.”
Luna has been defending Idaho's new standards against a growing chorus of political dissent; he said the higher standards will ensure that Idaho high school grads are prepared for college or the workplace. “We have had standards in place since 2002," he said. "Each time we raise academic standards, Idaho teachers make sure students meet the goals we have set for them, and we know we will see the same success as we implement the new Idaho Core Standards.” Click below for Luna's full announcement.
State Schools Supt. Tom Luna’s proposed 5.9 percent budget increase for public schools next year has dropped to 5.4 percent, Clark Corbin of Idaho EdNews reports, but not because Luna’s changed what he’s asking for. Instead, a recent decision by the PERSI board to hold off on a scheduled rate increase, due to strong earnings in the pension fund, changed the overall numbers. The Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho covers state and local government employees, school district employees and more; PERSI is among benefit costs built into calculations for all state agency budgets.
Tim Hill, deputy superintendent for public school finance, told Corbin the PERSI change made a $7.2 million difference in the public school budget calculations. Now, Luna’s proposed increase for next year comes in at $69.9 million, down from the previous $77 million; you can read Corbin’s full report here.
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.”
The Idaho State Board of Education is taking public comments on six proposed rule changes, on everything from requiring Idaho school kids to get cursive writing instruction to adding two credits of PE as a high school graduation requirement. Idaho Education News has a rundown here on the rule changes and how to comment; there’s a public hearing set for Oct. 8, and the state board is scheduled to consider the rules at its November meeting. Comments will be accepted through the end of October.
All six rule changes were proposed by state schools Superintendent Tom Luna; you can read his office’s summary here of the changes and public comment opportunities. In addition to cursive and PE, the rules address ISAT testing, an adjustment to math and science requirements, teacher education and endorsements, and an in-service math training requirement for teachers.
Idaho’s state Land Board has voted 4-1 to keep the endowment distribution for public schools next year at $31.3 million, the same level as this year, with only state Schools Superintendent Tom Luna objecting; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. Luna made an impassioned plea to raise the payout for schools to $37 million, saying the number of students has risen but the endowment distribution has been frozen at the $31 million level for the past four years.
Larry Johnson, investment manager for the Endowment Fund Investment Board, presented a detailed analysis of Luna’s proposal, and said the endowment board still recommends sticking with the $31 million figure, to keep growing reserves in the school fund toward the goal of covering five years of payments, in order to weather ups and downs in land and fund investments in the future. He said the endowment board makes distribution decisions based on the financial condition of the fund - not on the beneficiaries' requests.
Luna offered a compromise proposal to boost the payment to schools next year to $34 million, saying that way, the reserve fund wouldn’t fall – it would grow by $3 million, and remain at 3.9 years of payments. Gov. Butch Otter seconded Luna’s motion “out of respect” so it didn’t die for lack of a second, but voted against it.
Luna presented charts and tables showing that the reserve fund has grown by 900 percent since 2001, while the payout to schools has dropped 30 percent from that year's level. But Johnson told the board, "In '01 and '02, we were distributing more than the assets could support, so at some point there had to be reductions."
Gov. Otter said, “I can’t discuss this in a vacuum, without considering our goal and … our confidence in sort of our safety level, and that’s at five years. So as quick as I can get that to five years, then I can be a lot more generous.” He told Luna, “But I want to tell you I really appreciate the efforts that you and your department have put into it, because it is impressive. And maybe it does beg for change, but not exception.”
After voting down Luna’s substitute motion, the board approved the investment board recommendation with just Luna objecting, but at Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s urging, it added two additional provisions, which Luna backed: It called on the investment board to complete a review of its investment and distribution strategy for the endowments, including the five-year target for the reserves; and it asked state Lands Director Tom Schultz to conduct a similar review for the lands portion of the state endowment, including reviewing strategies such as moving into commercial property investments in addition to the traditional timber and grazing land.
The state Land Board is meeting this morning; a major agenda item is the distribution from the state endowment for public schools next year. Last month, state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna pushed to increase the distribution by $5.6 million above the recommendation of the state’s Endowment Investment Board. His motion died for lack of a second, but the board then agreed to send Luna’s proposal to the endowment board for review, and reconsider the issue this morning.
The endowment board is proposing holding schools at $31 million, the same distribution as the past four years, to help reserves in the school fund built up toward targeted levels. Since the Land Board in 2010, at Luna’s urging, voted to give schools a one-time additional $22 million distribution, the reserve fund for the schools hasn’t met the goal of holding five years worth of payments; it’s now just over three years and dropped to two years after the 2010 extra payment.
The endowment board this morning is again recommending sticking with the $31 million distribution to schools for fiscal year 2015, which starts July 1, 2014.
The current state of education in Idaho could be condensed into one of those melodramatic movie trailers: “In a world where 60 percent of jobs require some post-secondary education, fewer than 40 percent of Idahoans have any credentials beyond a high school diploma.” In fact, that’s the message state schools Superintendent Tom Luna delivered to a special legislative committee on Thursday. With an above-average high school graduation rate, the state might seem like it’s doing well, but the “stark reality,” Luna said, is that the high rate is the product of low standards. The proof is the low percentage of Idahoans who seek to further their education, whether at college or in a technical school. Plus, a high percentage of those who do enroll in colleges need remedial course work to catch up. But the good news is that Idaho leaders are not satisfied/Spokesman-Review. More here.
- Also SR editorial: Thorough, fair ruling for US 12 megaloads
Question: Do Idaho Republicans finally have the political will to fix the education system that they've allowed to languish during the Great Recession?
It doesn't get much cozier than this. Education Networks of America would not have a five- to 15-year contract to install WiFi in Idaho's high schools were it not for state school Superintendent Tom Luna. Now that Luna is in trouble over the deal, ENA is returning the favor and surrendering one of the most lucrative features of the arrangement - a fixed rate that guaranteed the company the same $2.11 million a year regardless of how many high schools signed up. Instead, it will bill only for services delivered - a change that could deduct more than $225,000 from ENA's profits. "In my mind, what they've done is totally changed the terms of the contract," retired purchasing agent Scott Sherman told the Spokesman-Review's Betsy Russell. Sherman handled purchasing matters for Philips Petroleum when it ran the Idaho National Laboratory near Idaho Falls/Marty Trillhaase, Lewiston Tribune. More here.
Question: Do rank-and-file Republicans still support Luna?
Idaho’s education system faces a “stark reality,” state schools Superintendent Tom Luna told a special legislative committee this morning: “Kids are meeting our standards, but they aren’t the right standards any more.” The state has a “very high graduation rate, one of the highest in the country,” Luna said, 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,” he said. “Thirty-eight 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”/Betsy Russell, Eye on Boise. More here.
Question: Why don't Idahoan parents and students value college?
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.
Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna has asked for more time to prepare the 2014-15 public schools budget request so he can build it around an education reform task force’s recommendations, Idaho Education News reports. While state agencies typically submit budget requests around Sept. 1, Luna submitted only a placeholder “statutory budget” on Sept. 3, IdahoEdNews reporter Clark Corbin writes, and asked for an extra 30 days to submit a formal budget request “so I will be able to submit a budget that is relevant to the Task Force’s recommendations.” The request was granted by Otter’s budget chief, Jani Revier, and Idaho legislative services director Jeff Youtz. You can read Corbin’s full report here.
Luna’s spokeswoman, Melissa McGrath, told Idaho EdNews, “Superintendent Luna will be working closely with all stakeholders as well as the staff at the State Department of Education on developing a budget request that addresses the recommendations of the Task Force.” The stakeholders task force, appointed by Otter and coordinated by the State Board of Education, gave near-unanimous approval to a sweeping set of proposals last month, from boosting Idaho teachers’ pay to advancing students to the next grade only when they’ve mastered the material.