Gov. Butch Otter said Friday that he will convene a task force on Idaho higher education, modeled on an effort he initiated nearly five years ago that’s credited with finding a long-range, bipartisan consensus on K-12 education.
The co-chairs will be Linda Clark, former West Ada School District superintendent and a State Board of Eduction member, and Bob Lokken, CEO of White Cloud Analytics. Both served on the public school task force that delivered the K-12 report in 2013.
Recommendations for Idaho colleges and universities could come by September.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for us to take a long look at the second part of (Idaho’s education) system,” Clark said.
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Legislative leaders expressed support for the task force. Senate President Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, called it a “great idea,” saying Otter had consulted with lawmakers and included them among its members. House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, said the success of the K-12 task force showed the value of such collaborations.
Idaho higher education needs a long-range plan, Otter said. “Where are we anemic? Where do we need more purpose? How can we do a better job?” Otter asked.
Otter said he put no restrictions on the task force’s work, including financial, just as he gave the school task force broad latitude. That group produced a set of 20 recommendations aimed at improving education. Endorsed by Idaho legislators, its initiatives could end up totaling an estimated $350 million.
The K-12 task force wasn’t about money, and dollars were barely discussed at its meetings, Otter said. The task force focused on recommendations it thought would improve education and Idaho’s workforce.
“We know the cost of everything,” Otter said. “But we can’t visualize the value sometimes.”
MORE MONEY FOR COLLEGES?
The eight state college presidents will serve on the task force and were elated with Otter’s news.
“Anytime the governor makes higher education an issue on a platform like a statewide task force, it’s an overall benefit for all of Idaho higher education,” said Bob Kustra, Boise State University president.
Kustra has complained that Boise State receives less money per pupil than the state’s other two universities.
The Higher Education Task Force is coming after a period of years in which Idaho colleges and universities have argued hard that the Legislature needs to put more money into the system.
Kustra and others have said the state shifted taxpayer dollars from the universities and students as lawmakers used state money to deal with other issues.
Idaho colleges also face a depressing rate of students leaving high school who go on to college. That “go-on rate” is about 44 percent, and the number has dropped from 50 percent in recent years.
A January 2016 study from the University of Idaho’s James A. & Louise McClure Center for Public Policy Research suggested that many male students think they can make good money being employed straight out of high school and are not inclined to take on college debt.
“We need to change that college-going culture,” said Chuck Staben, University of Idaho president.
THE K-12 TASK FORCE
In 2011, the Legislature passed a series of controversial, tech-heavy eduction reforms proposed by then-Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna and endorsed by Otter. In 2012, voters repealed the reforms in a stateside referendum. So Otter convened the task force of 31 educators, parents, lawmakers, policymakers and businesspeople.
The panel’s 20 recommendations in 2013 covered an array of issues, such as boosting teacher pay, increasing technology, easing obstacles to attending college, improving reading and giving districts more autonomy to run their education systems.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are scheduled to go into those reforms, including another $58 million this year for teacher salary increases.
Those reforms are just taking root in Idaho classrooms, but educators and other stakeholders already are calling for Otter to reconvene the task force to asses how reforms are going and look for new areas in which education can be improved.
Higher education’s 2020 goal
The 28-member task force is still being formed. It will have lawmakers, college presidents, students, businessespeople and others. Its aim is to help improve Idaho’s workforce and move the state closer to its goal of getting 60 percent of its population age 25 to 34 armed with a certificate or college diploma by 2020.