Our View: Otter’s education slogan needs jump-start

Statesman staffJanuary 7, 2014 

While we are happy to hear Gov. Butch Otter singled out education as his No. 1 Idaho issue during his State of the State speech Monday, it’s what he didn’t say that has us wondering, and maybe even worrying.

• The body he commissioned a year ago — the eclectic, bipartisan Task Force for Improving Education — handed him a report last summer with 20 recommendations touching on everything from teacher compensation to academic standards. Which ones are among the priorities? Maybe it’s still early, but we’re still guessing.

• Though making a commitment of $54.7 million toward achieving the task force goals, it’s hard to unscramble whether this is new money, existing money repurposed or a combination. Furthermore, Otter hasn’t yet clued us in on what he finds to be the most pressing needs for the estimated $350 million task force implementation costs — though restoring operational funding for schools is obviously high on the list.

• The hint of a five-year plan makes only one promise — that 2016-19 will be written in pencil because there are so many uncertainties.

We were looking for a bolder financial grubstake, and Otter delivered a new, catchy slogan: investing in Idaho’s “K-Through-Career” education and workforce development system.

Like a lot of Idahoans, we consider the state’s education system to be an anemic, unfit and starving body in need of proper nutrition (money) and exercise (more appropriate standards). We are fully aware that the financial and academic fixes are going to take time and that Idahoans had better have patience.

But every successful makeover plan we’ve ever heard of requires a dramatic jump-start, something that says, hey, we’re in this for the long term.

Though the Idaho Core Standards (one of the 20 recommendations) are already being used in schools, there has been push-back from the public and high profile legislator’s such as Otter’s Republican primary opponent, Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian. But even if the standards survive all the ongoing challenges and continue to be implemented, we are not going to see them or the financial investments in education reform bear fruit until the graduating high school classes of 2018 or 2019.

That’s a long, long time, and we believe Otter should soon clue us in more on what his “pencil figures” for 2016-2019 could be, based on revenue projections.

We understand there are complexities among those task force recommendations. We are glad to hear some money is being set aside to study things (and their costs) such as tiered teacher compensation and mastery — as in when and how kids will be allowed to matriculate through certain programs and classes.

Our overriding concern is that, perhaps, Otter might have underestimated how much the Legislature would have funded for 2015. We say this because leadership on both sides of the aisle wants Idaho out from the lowest rankings when it comes to jobs, income and spending per student. They believe education is a key element in getting us there, and they know that comes with a price.

House Speaker Scott Bedke seems genuinely ready to study the cause and effect and the relationship between education and wages, as it pertains to Idaho.

We hope Otter and the Legislature evolve in their understanding that “throwing money” at our education needs is more than worthwhile, it’s really what ties the new slogan together “K$Through$Career.”

“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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