In the Classroom

Otter hints at help for sagging graduation rate

Idaho lawmakers come back to town Monday with with a pair of problems having over the state public education system:

▪  A high school graduation rate that is among the lowest in the nation at 77 percent.

▪  A rising number of supplemental levies taking bites out of taxpayer’s wallets to keep schools funded.

Gov. Butch Otter hinted Thursday that he’ll address both this year, but declined to give specifics as he nears his State of the State address on Monday.

Graduation rate: Otter said he was surprised by the state’s lackluster graduate rate, reported by both the state and the federal government last year for the class of 2014. In previous years the number has fluctuated between the mid 80 percent to over 90 percent range. For the 2013-2014 rate, the state complied with a calculation that most state’s have done for several years: Comparing the number of students who enter ninth grade and graduate four years later.

“I was surprised to see it drop that far, that fast,” Otter told reporters at a pre Legislature briefing Thursday. Otter indicated he would unveil some initiatives “that will help us get those students through high school.”

If those numbers are correct, the state needs to look at why, said State Sen. Bernt Hill, senate president pro tem. Is it because teachers are leaving over low pay? Or that parents don’t understand the importance of students graduating?

Says House Speaker Scott Bedke: “If that is true it should trigger a state response in an affirmative way.”

I’ve dug into the graduation rate problem in Idaho. You can read my report in Friday’s Idaho Statesman.

Tax levies: Idahoans keep showing up at the polls to renew or increase supplemental tax levies for their public schools, a trend that began as the state cut funding to education in the midst of the Great Recession. “It tells me the local folks who have voted for those feel education in their community is very important,” Otter said. But state government need to look at “what we can do to ease that pain,” he said. “There might be some ideas in the pipeline.”

By some estimated the state education funding is behind its 2009level by more than $100 million.