Gov. Butch Otter said Friday he will convene a task force on Idaho higher education, modeled on an effort he initiated nearly five year ago 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 from the task force 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 legislators and included lawmakers 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 public schools task force broad latitude in 2013. 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 work force.
“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 are elated with Otter’s news.
“Any time 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. “At Boise State, we are particularly pleased because it will give the task force an opportunity to look at the funding mechanisms that are used currently.”
Kustra has complained that Boise State receives less money per pupil than the state’s other two universities.
Otter’s Higher Education Task Force is sprouting in an environment where Idaho colleges and universities have argued hard for years that the Legislature needs to put more money into the system.
Kustra and others have said the state shifted dollars from taxpayers to 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, which can reach up to $20,000 for many Idaho students.
“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 a public education task force of 31 educators, parents, lawmakers, policy makers and business people to create a path toward better education in Idaho public schools.
The panel’s 20 recommendations in 2013 covered an array of issues, such as boosting teacher pay, increasing school technology, easing obstacles to students attending college after high school, 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 and not all its members have been appointed. It will have lawmakers, college presidents, students, businesses people and others. Its aim is to help improve Idaho’s work force and move the state closer to its goal of getting 60 percent of its population 25 to 34 armed with a certificate or college diploma by 2020.