Idaho Education Association backs reforms of public education

At a Boise gathering, the group also takes jabs at lawmakers.

broberts@idahostatesman.comDecember 10, 2013 

Adam Collins, an economic teacher at Eagle High School, discusses how students will benefit from Gov. Butch Otter's education reform task force recommendations. Collins was at an education rally put on Monday, Dec. 9, by the Idaho Education Association.

BILL ROBERTS

In the days leading up to the 2014 legislative session, groups are coming out in support of Gov. Butch Otter's task force for reforming education.

Monday's entry was the Idaho Education Association, which mixed its praise with finger-wagging at lawmakers, who educators and some politicians said have hurt wages and economic growth in Idaho by their failure to put more money into schools.

"The Legislature needs to step up and adequately fund our schools," IEA President Penni Cyr told a group of 50 gathered on the Capitol steps in Monday's cold. "(We) can no longer allow ourselves to settle for mediocrity."

The Boise event was one of dozens held around the country as part of a "Day of Action," with education advocates drawing attention to education problems, reforms and finances.

Mike Lanza, a Boise parent who served on Otter's task force, said public education in Idaho is "like a vehicle that has gone without maintenance."

He expressed worry that lawmakers may pick one or two of the 20 recommendations the task force produced and let the rest die.

Among the recommendations are restoring $82.5 million schools lost during the recession and $250 million for improved teacher salaries accompanied by greater accountability.

But if all lawmakers do is give schools back $82 million, it won't help the state with its goal of getting 60 percent of Idahoans age 25 to 34 post-high school certificates by 2020, Lanza said.

These outward signs of support for the task force — Democratic lawmakers announced four bills last week that would put the task force recommendations into law — are simply a warm-up for what's to come next month.

Otter's State of the State address at 1 p.m. Jan. 6 will set the tone for the debate on education reform in the Legislature.

In the past, lawmakers have balked at governors' plans. Almost certainly, lawmakers will tinker with them.

Some observers think the broad-based support that the task force recommendations enjoy from educators, politicians, parents, business leaders and others could evaporate once the Legislature moves beyond a broad set of principles and into the nitty-gritty details.

Otter says he is pleased with the bipartisan support for his task force's recommendation. But he is not saying much about what he will tell the Legislature.

One hint: He is thinking long-term — a five-year plan, with the first year etched in more detail.

The first-year plan won't hit all the recommendations, Otter said in a recent online chat with Idaho Statesman readers. "I will have a strategy for continued collaboration among education stakeholders and policymakers in the effort to bring this substantive and comprehensive vision into reality."

Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts

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