Our View: Task force’s ideas for fixing Idaho schools make sense

September 1, 2013 

The list of obstacles lying in wait to ambush the recommendations of Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force For Improving Education is lengthy and formidable. Criticizing the expense — estimates range from $350 million to $400 million — is another place to decide to derail this latest attempt at education reform.

But before anybody goes there we hope Idahoans will first study the recommendations and consider the smart, diverse and conscientious 31-member panel that authored them. Among this group are Democrats and Republicans, legislators and teachers union executives, school administrators and parents, business owners and a representative from Otter’s office.

Included were Tom Luna, Idaho superintendent of public instruction, and Mike Lanza, who chaired the Vote No on Props 1, 2, and 3 campaign and who co-founded the Idaho Parents and Teachers Together organization.

Luna and Lanza have been at opposite positions on education, yet both signed off on about 25 guiding principles and recommendations that touch on topics including teacher compensation, fiscal stability, increased technology, more school district autonomy and the adoption of academically challenging core values.

This group — which should stay together and continue to work with Otter on implementation — has drafted a road map to a brighter education future.

We urge Idahoans to reserve judgment until they have taken the time to pore over the list of task force members and the findings at www.boardofed.idaho.gov. Therein lies a broad but comprehensive plan with the potential to pull Idaho education reform out of a ditch and back on a path of progress.

We do not feel it is overblown to say this is a critical and historic moment for Idaho education. The future will move along with or without us. Today and tomorrow we can choose to prepare our children to compete and complete the necessary course work to land sustainable employment and build an improved economy.

A guiding principle for the task force was the somber statistic that only 39 percent of Idahoans aged 25 to 34 attend college (some briefly) or achieve a one-year certificate in some trade.

It is the goal of the State Board of Education to raise that percentage to 60 percent by 2020. Though that is ambitious and admirable, some business and career experts say getting that number to 68 percent may be necessary to match people with available jobs.

If we are content to become the scenic service industry state that caters to the rich and famous and more successful visitors and competitors in neighboring states, we know what to do.

Nothing.

The Task Force findings and the daunting price tag — $350 million (which could be divided in yearly installments) coming out of a typical $2.7 billion budget — should not be considered throwing money at a problem, but rather investing in a solution.

Though it is natural to pick and choose favorites from among the menu of the task force suggestions, we hope the whole list is debated, sharpened and implemented. Obviously some priorities and first steps will have to be decided; a multiyear plan makes sense.

The pressure is on Otter to continue to lead and consult about implementation and working in conjunction with the task force to persuade our Legislature that there likely will be no task force II if this loses traction and we end up back in that ditch.

We are encouraged that Otter has recognized districts must have their operational funding back (an $82 million item) and that like-minded legislators, such as House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, are sending signals of support.

On Aug. 15, Otter stated that “Education is our top economic priority.”

We would agree and add that, for the next several months and during the coming legislative session, education reform be our only priority until we seize the moment and adopt a path.

“Our View” is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@idahostatesman.com.

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