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Eye On Boise

Of SBAC testing, opt-outs, and funding for cash-strapped Idaho schools…

Idaho school officials say a nascent movement among some anti-Common Core parents to boycott required annual student testing could endanger tens of millions in federal funding for the state's cash-strapped schools. At a series of hearings on minor rule changes for the testing program held around the state this fall, some parents at the North Idaho sessions said they’d refuse to let their kids be tested; the rule changes were unanimously approved by the state Board of Education this week.

States – and school districts – are required to have at least 95 percent participation in annual student testing. Blake Youde, spokesman for the state Board of Education, said if states or districts don’t meet that mark, they could lose some or all of their federal funding, the largest portion of which is Title I funds that go directly to local programs for poor and disadvantaged students. Idaho school districts received $57.2 million in Title I funding last year. Lakeland schools alone received $601,075. Coeur d’Alene schools received $1.5 million; Post Falls, $1.2 million.

“It is a big, heavy price tag that the state could have to pay if they did not meet the requirements,” said state Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene.

Souza sponsored an unsuccessful “parental rights” bill this year that sought to require all Idaho school districts to develop an opt-out process for parents, allowing them to withdraw their children from “any learning activity or material” to which they object. The bill passed the Senate, but died without a hearing in the House Education Committee.

Souza said that happened “because of concerns about the financial burden it would place on the state if too many parents opted their child out of the SBAC test,” even though her bill didn’t specifically mention the test, for which Idaho contracted with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. Idaho has two years remaining on a five-year contract with SBAC for its new Idaho Standards Achievement Test, which students take in the spring and is tied to the state’s new Idaho Core standards for learning at each grade level.

A separate House parental rights bill passed both houses this year after the Senate amended it; it affirms parental rights, subject to Idaho law and the state Constitution. The Idaho Constitution makes school attendance mandatory, but allows parents to satisfy that requirement through private schools or by home-schooling their children with no state oversight.

Last year, Idaho’s participation rate for students taking the ISAT was 97.8 percent. You can read my full story here at

“It’s a complicated issue – it’s money, and it’s big money,” said Souza, who had joined parents, teachers and others with concerns about the test at two North Idaho hearings on the rule changes, where some parents urged others to refuse to allow their kids to be tested. “I’ve never encouraged anyone to opt out of the test,” Souza said. “I’ve always said you need to do what’s best for your child.”

State schools Superintendent Sherri Ybarra said, “Title I funding is essential for our most vulnerable students across the state, and it is my job as superintendent to protect funding for those students.” She said her hope is that as Idaho’s testing system is refined, in the coming years Idaho will have “an assessment system which provides flexibility to districts and moves away from being punitive to being supportive of local educational leaders.”

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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