Next job for education task force: Convince the Idaho Legislature

With a list of ideas complete, Idaho’s reform plans move from brainstorming to marketing, and it could be a tough sell.

broberts@idahostatesman.comAugust 24, 2013 


    Common core: Support for new math, reading and writing standards, called the idaho Core Standards.

    Bank-breaker or teacher magnet: Otter’s panel voted unanimously to recommend a six-year, $253 million teacher pay plan some say is necessary to keep states from poaching good Idaho teachers. Among the details: boosting minimum teacher salaries to $40,000, from the $31,000 level now; and hiking pay for longtime educators to $60,000, while tying the top scale to performance. Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde says the price tag could break the bank, but others say more money would help keep teachers.

    Recession restoration: The task force members voted without dissent to restore some $82.5 million in operational revenue that school districts have lost since 2008, when the Great Recession forced lawmakers to cut into school budgets, despite hundreds of millions in federal education help that accompanied President Barack Obama’s stimulus plan.

    Mastery not grades: The panel voted unanimously to promote a style of education in which students would be pushed to master subjects or concepts before moving on to new ones, rather than simply testing students at the end of the semester or year.

    Literacy skills: Task force members want schools to double down on efforts to boost literacy proficiency, to ensure that more children are reading and writing at their grade level — in particular by the time they reach the third grade.

    Wireless broadband: Schools should have access to wireless technology, to connect students and teachers to educational tools over the Internet. This unanimous recommendation follows Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna’s recent $2.1 million contract awarded to a company to provide statewide wireless access to more than 200 Idaho high schools and junior high schools, a deal that’s drawn scrutiny from some lawmakers because of its price tag and because Tennessee-based Education Networks of America, not school districts, will own the wireless infrastructure.

    Classroom computing: Also unanimously, the task force favored giving teachers and students “adequate access to technology devices” in the classroom. The recommendation doesn’t require so-called "one-to-one" computing devices, a disputed provision of the rejected Students Come First laws.

    Instead, it calls for giving districts and schools the ability to determine what devices are appropriate. “We want to empower school districts, we want to empower teachers to decide what adequate access is going to look like,” said House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle.

    The Associated Press

Bob Lokken, a Boise CEO, just finished eight months of work with 30 other business, education and government leaders to lay out a vision for how Idaho can improve its public schools.

Now he’s going to go out and pitch the plan to fellow corporate leaders across the state.

“I think we have a lot of work left to educate people,” said Lokken, part of Idaho Business for Education, business leaders who advocate for stronger education. “I don’t expect people to just cart blanche take what we’ve said.”

Lokken and the rest of Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force to Improve Education wrapped up work Friday, endorsing with little dissent 21 recommendations that cover education issues from higher teacher salaries to tougher academics.

But some task force members did raise questions about a lack of detail in some proposals and a lack of a priority list to identify which of the 21 ideas are the most important.

State Sen John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, questioned whether the Legislature would bite on proposals that could well exceed $300 million.

Roger Brown, Otter’s special assistant for education, praised the committee, created by the governor following an acrimonious campaign last fall that ended with voter repeal of Idaho’s Students Come First laws.

“They delivered a tremendous document,” he said. “There are obvious costs associated with it. There are challenges with it.”

He declined to discuss specific recommendations.

Otter has said he didn’t want the committee to dwell on costs. Bring him ideas, he said, and he and the Legislature would work it out.

In advance of the 2014 Legislature, Otter is expected to come back for a public meeting with the task force to discuss what he thinks he can do and what the state’s budget numbers look like.

Otter likely will need the help of his task force to persuade legislators to rethink their approach to public education, which has been to increasingly micromanage some school district operations.

Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, co-chair of a task force subcommittee, said he supports “every single one” of the recommendations.

But turning the general concepts into bills the Legislature will pass could be challenging, he said.

“The devil is in the details,” he said.

DeMordaunt said he believes that lawmakers might retreat from recommendations that turn over decisions about improving student achievement to local districts.

Yet Boise School District leaders, among others, say they need that authority to be effective.

“That’s going to be a leap for the Legislature,” said DeMordaunt, who chairs the House Education Committee.

Standing still won’t benefit the state, said Lokken, CEO of White Cloud Analytics.

“Businesses are gravely concerned with where our education system is versus what we need to support the state’s economy,” he said. “I am confident when people have had a chance to vet those question and hear why it is we decided what we did ... we will start to bring people on board.”

Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts

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