In 2013, Gov. Otter asked the State Board of Education to shepherd the work of the Task Force for Improving Education. Over the past two-years, the Board has led this focused effort to first develop and now implement the 20 recommendations of the Task Force, which provide a road map for improving K-12 education in our state.
With the governor’s commitment to the five-year plan provided in the recommendations and the widespread support they have received from stakeholders and the Legislature, we are already seeing the benefits across Idaho.
In just two years, school districts have received $55 million in additional discretionary funds for operations, bringing them within $20 million of recouping the $82 million cut during the Great Recession. While the Task Force recommended restoring the funds over a five-year time frame, after only two years, districts have already received two-thirds of the funding.
Teachers have received significant support both in professional development and compensation. Most notably, school districts will receive significantly more funding for teacher salaries through the career ladder adopted in the last legislative session. This will provide more than $125 million in new money for teacher salaries over the next five years. The Task Force also recommended additional compensation for teachers who take leadership roles in their schools. The Legislature provided ongoing funds for these leadership premiums in 2014, rewarding teachers for going above and beyond to serve as department heads, mentors and curriculum developers.
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The Task Force also recommended, and the Legislature funded, more professional development and collaboration opportunities for teachers to help them continue to strengthen their skills and expertise.
Students are also seeing the benefit. The Task Force recommended an expanded commitment for students to earn college credits while in high school. By the end of the 2014-2015 school year, dual credit programs had contributed to nearly 12,000 high school students accumulating approximately 70,000 credit hours before graduating. These are students who will be more likely to enroll in college, earn higher course grades and obtain a post-secondary credential or degree.
Full implementation of the Task Force recommendations will require sustained focus and continued commitment from all education stakeholders. We must stay committed to the rigorous Idaho Core Standards, improve reading proficiency in the early grades, support funding for the career ladder, continue restoration of operational funds to districts, incorporate more technology in the classroom, implement mastery-based education, and promote school district autonomy. The recommendations are not one-shot policies; rather they are a long-term plan to improve outcomes for Idaho students.
We have heard from educators across the state. They are asking us to stay the course. Students, teachers and administrators need stability in education policy so they have the time and support to realize better results in the classroom.
The State Board of Education is committed to implementing the recommendations of the Task Force, which provide clear direction and specific priorities to provide a high quality education for our students and secure a prosperous future for Idaho.
Don Soltman is President of the Idaho State Board of Education