Does it matter if the State Board of Education violated the Idaho Open Meeting Law when it decided to end ISAT testing for thousands of 9th graders all across the state? Of course it does. The open meeting law is one of the most important protections Idahoans have to guarantee an honest and open government, and it ensures that the people of our state have a role to play in our government, from listening to and understanding the debate on important issues to making informed choices when they select their government representatives. Plus, many people have differing views on ISAT testing in the state’s public schools. People care, and it matters. Why would something like that be handled behind closed doors?
The state board announced late Monday that it was canceling the ISAT this spring for the state’s 9th graders, who already took the test this fall. The reason: A budget shortfall. But the board hadn’t met Monday. It had discussed the issue, which wasn’t on its agenda, in a closed executive session the prior Thursday in Pocatello. “That’s not one of those items that’s allowed in executive session,” said state Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, chairman of the Senate Education Committee. “It would have been much better if the discussion had been held in open session and the public would have had a chance to hear.” The closed session stretched for nearly four hours.
Goedde had his own concerns about eliminating the 9th grade version of a test students now take, fall and spring, from 3rd through 10th grades. Passing the 10th grade test is a requirement for high school graduation. “It seems kind of ludicrous when as sophomores the test starts to count in earnest, they give them a year off as freshmen,” he said. You can read my full story here in today’s Spokesman-Review.
This morning, the Spokesman-Review filed a complaint with the Idaho Attorney General’s office, which has the duty to investigate violations of the open meeting law by state agencies. The state board is now suggesting it may call a special meeting to formally vote to eliminate the 9th grade ISAT testing, but certainly it would have made more sense to just do it right the first time. Budgets, student testing and education funding shortfalls all are matters of great public interest, and the law doesn’t permit the board to discuss them secretly. The board also appears to have violated the open meeting law by not specifying under which exemption it was going into executive session, instead using a “catch-all” motion saying it was “one or more” of the allowable reasons; and by not keeping written minutes of its executive sessions specifying under which of the exemptions the sessions were held and the general subject matter addressed.