Funding, content mastery topics dominate education listening session

Public and education stakeholders largely supportive of task force recommendations

(Idaho Falls) Post RegisterJanuary 28, 2014 

Only a handful of residents offered input before lawmakers Monday on 20 recommendations that have resounding support from lawmakers and educators and may change the face of Idaho’s education system in the next five years.

About 50 people attended the House and Senate education committees’ one-hour listening session on the Governor’s Task Force for Improving Education. Seven offered testimony.

Mike Vuittonet, who serves on the Meridian Joint School District 2 school board, said he supports each of the recommendations, but advocated for the mastery-based system outlined by the task force. The task force called for the state shifting to a system where students advance through the system based on a student’s understanding of the concepts rather than seat-time requirements.

“Just because they have a birthday, doesn’t mean it’s time to move forward,” he said.

He said while he thought it was prudent to place some funding in the state’s “rainy day” accounts as proposed by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s executive budget, Vuittonet said it is critical to restore funding for public education to 2009 levels and beyond.

“Funding is a big issue,” he said. “As we look at budgets and operational funding, and as we are trying to find out way out of the woods … I would like you to know the tale of two cities. I talked with a board member from Nampa and we found ourselves at the same conclusion. If our supplemental levy fails, we will have (a very difficult time).”

Caldwell resident and education author Victoria Young said too much emphasis has been placed on standardized testing through the recommendations. Rural districts with especially tight budgets will be forced to focus more on students passing tests than actual mastery of the material, she said.

“The curriculum was, is and will be narrowed to teach to the test because that’s how it goes in a standardized system,” she said.

Boise resident Steve Berch, a Democrat running for a District 15 House seat in November, said the Legislature should do more to keep quality Idaho teachers in Idaho. Lawmakers should focus on increased pay, he said.

Karen Echeverria, executive director of the Idaho School Boards Association, Robin Nettinga, executive director of the Idaho Education Association and Rob Winslow, executive director of the Idaho Association of School Administrators, said although they and their entities don’t always agree on education reform, these recommendations have found broad support within their membership.

“These three associations stand before you united and agree how to move forward on the governor’s task force for these recommendations,” Echeverria said.

Echeverria said the groups recognized it could take up to five years to “get this all implemented the way we want to.”

In the early 2000s, legislation was approved by lawmakers that required comprehensive peer mentoring for new teachers. Under funding cutbacks, that requirement was removed and, as a result, Echeverria said many of those programs disappeared. She encouraged legislators to find new ways to fund mentoring and professional development for teachers and administrators.

“It is critical the state provide funding to support that program,” she said.

Senate Education Committee chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said cooperation between education stakeholders bodes well for implementing the recommendations.

“It gives me some comfort that we’re moving to the right direction,” he said.

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