SCHOOL TASK FORCE HAS OPPORTUNITYTO REWRITE AGENDA
As it was taking flight on Jan. 11, Gov. Butch Otter’s education task force had the feel of organized chaos.
After voters rejected schools Superintendent Tom Luna’s top-down state-mandated education overhaul package, the governor opted to seek a bottom-up consensus on what to do next.
He called together this eclectic group of educators, business lobbyists, legislators and state officials. Its 31 participants include State Board of Education members and Luna, as well as Mike Lanza, the Boise parent who organized the successful voter repeal of the Luna laws.
That puts Otter on a better path than simply having politicians imposing their narrow reform agenda on public school children. But at its Jan. 11 meeting, clarity was in short supply.
This task force squanders a unique opportunity to set its own agenda:
Æ Ask Idahoans what they want from their schools. And do they believe the schools are delivering or not?
Æ Take a hard look at the role of standardized testing in Idaho schools. Are these tests truly measuring student achievement? Or are they dictating what is taught in the classroom?
Æ And challenge the biggest issue of all — the systematic disinvestment of Idaho public education. The evidence is in: Round after round of tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations have drained money from Idaho’s classrooms. Schools have yet to recover from the Great Recession cuts. The share of Idaho’s personal income devoted to public education is down almost a quarter from its traditional level. The gap between districts wealthy enough to cover the loss of state funds through property taxes and those that can’t is growing.
Whether intentional or not, Otter has given education advocates a new stage from which they can speak truth to power. They can delve into Idaho’s problems and its possibilities. They can tell Idahoans plainly what a quality education costs.
And they can finally engage in a conversation the state’s political elites have avoided for a generation.
INDEPENDENCE IS KEY TO ETHICS PANEL
The Times-News, Twin Falls
On the Friday before the Legislature’s session began, Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett and House Speaker Scott Bedke sat side by side and seemed to espouse the same idea.
Stennett reminded the press and lawmakers present that day that Idaho Democrats have been pushing for an independent ethics commission for six years, with a stress on the word “independent.”
Bedke responded by saying that house lawmakers are looking at details of what an ethics commission would look like. He did not elaborate, and he did not use the word “independent.”
We have two things to say. First, it’s about time. Second, if an ethics commission is not independent, it is not worth the time, money or effort. It will only be a wasteful charade. As we have learned again and again, lawmakers protect their own. They have an incredible capacity for forgiveness of the wrongdoings of their colleagues. That is, until it’s politically expedient to do otherwise.
To further illustrate our point, when Otter addressed the question of ethics that same day, he said it was a matter of “optics” and that most legislators merely needed to be trained to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Ironically, U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo was pleading guilty to a DUI charge in Virginia that very same morning.
No matter how good their intentions, our lawmakers are exposed to daily temptation in myriad ad forms. Spend an afternoon with any of our area lawmakers and you will see them approached and reproach, fawned over, prodded. Drinks are free. Dinners are free. Doors are open. It’s easy to feel like the center of the universe, even as a freshman. It’s easy to lose perspective. It’s easy for the line between right and wrong to blurred.
If anything good came of last year’s cautionary tale that ended the career of Senate Majority Caucus Chairman John McGee, it could be the establishment of this much needed commission.