House committee rejects science and humanities standards

A pending rule covering new science and humanities standards is in limbo, after the House Education Committee complained about the public input process surrounding the creation of the standards.

DeMordaunt New
Rep. Reed DeMordaunt

Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, led Tuesday morning’s effort to reject the rule.

The rule addresses numerous academic standards, including science standards pertaining to the age of the Earth, the creation of the universe and global warming.

The State Board of Education approved the rule containing the standards on Aug. 13. Written comments were accepted through Oct. 28, according to state documents.

DeMordaunt told fellow committee members that more public input was needed on the front end of the rulemaking process. He stopped short of saying that existing laws and rules were violated, and said it appears legal notice for public comment was provided.

“As I look at this rule and drill down with the parties involved, I feel we can do a better job than what we’ve done in terms of getting feedback from our citizens with regard to this,” he said during the meeting.

After the meeting, DeMordaunt told Idaho Education News that he and other committee members simply preferred a more robust comment process.

“It is my belief that this wasn’t done in the best way possible,” DeMordaunt said. “It doesn’t mean they weren’t good standards. But before we ever talk about content, we’ve got to be assured the process is open, transparent and invites the public participation.”

Neither DeMordaunt nor other committee members complained about the public input process regarding a suite of unrelated rules they addressed Tuesday.

Clow New
Rep. Lance Clow

And committee members barely mentioned the content of the standards. However, Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, said language that said human activities have “significantly” altered the biosphere was “troublesome to some people.”

“Significantly?” Clow said. “Compared to what? … I think you could write standards without using some of that terminology and still have appropriate science standards.”

After the meeting, State Board of Education spokesman Blake Youde said board members and the State Department of Education adhered to all public comment and notification guidelines during the rulemaking process. The issue, Youde told Idaho Education News, is that several people attempted to provide input after the public comment period closed.

According to state documents, a group of 15 Idaho science teachers met in March and May 2015 to review and revise the science standards.

The fate of the rule now rests with the Senate Education Committee. If the Senate committee approves the rule, the standards can still be adopted. If the Senate committee kills the rule, then it is dead for the session, and existing standards would remain in place for 2016-17.

If the Senate kills the rule, Youde says the State Board and State Department of Education would likely begin the rulemaking process all over again, although a specific course of action is not yet determined.

In other action Tuesday:

Computer science initiatives. The House voted 66-2 to pass a computer science initiative pushed by DeMordaunt.

Through House Bill 379, DeMordaunt hopes to develop a set of computer science standards, create an online repository of educational materials and foster partnerships with industry leaders, state officials and educators.

DeMordaunt, who owns a software company, said he is concerned students lack the tech skills necessary to satisfy hiring demands within the expanding software and technology sectors.

The new computer science initiative would be based out of the state’s STEM Action Center. DeMordaunt estimated the initiative would cost $94,300 out of next year’s budget, enough money to hire one full-time employee and cover administrative costs.

Scott New
Rep. Heather Scott

Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, and Rep. Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton, were the only House members to vote against the bill.

Neither lawmaker explained her vote, but while the bill was being considered Scott asked DeMordaunt two questions about whether industry leaders were developing the computer science standards.

DeMordaunt told her he supports creating nationally recognized computer education standards that are developed collaboratively with local industry leaders.

During a committee hearing last week, 13 business leaders and educators spoke in favor of the bill’s passage, while nobody opposed it.

The bill next heads to the Senate for consideration.

Gear Up Idaho Scholarship. House Education followed the Senate’s lead and partially rejected a pending rule pertaining to the Gear Up Idaho Scholarship.

Committee members said they were concerned about fairness issues with how student grade point averages are calculated for scholarships. The rule would have called for using unweighted GPAs to partially determine scholarship recipients. That means students who pass rigorous Advanced Placement courses do not get to use a weighted five-point scale on their applications, as many lawmakers felt they should.

Those who favored a weighted GPA scale said the rigor of coursework should be considered when the scholarship is awarded.

Tracie Bent, the State Board’s chief planning and policy officer, told lawmakers that there is no fair way to calculate weighted GPAs between school districts. Many districts offer AP courses, but many others do not, and state officials have so far been unable to develop a compromise.

Idaho awards the scholarship based on unweighted GPAs, and that practice will continue until state officials develop a solution, Bent said.

Now that both chambers have rejected the unweighted GPA language, it is dead for the session. But in essence, that vote amounted to sending a message to the State Board.

Charter school contracts. The Senate Education Committee voted to introduce a new bill pertaining to charter school teachers’ contracts.

Nonini New
Sen. Bob Nonini

Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, pushed the bill, amending a section of law dealing with written contracts for charter school administrators and teachers. The rewrite would delete a phrase requiring the state superintendent of public instruction to approve charter contract forms.

Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, told Nonini she has some serious concerns about this deletion, saying it could threaten the ability to ensure highly skilled, qualified teachers are in place in every classroom. Ward-Engelking said charter school representatives had a seat at the table last year when the Legislature developed and passed the career ladder salary law, which covers certification, evaluation and contract standards.

Nonini told Ward-Engelking he would talk with state officials about the issue and answer her questions if the bill receives a full hearing.

State Board appointment. Senate Education Committee members also held a low-key confirmation hearing to discuss Linda Clark’s appointment to the State Board.

Linda Clark1 copy
Linda Clark

In July, Gov. Butch Otter appointed Clark to a vacant seat on the board. Such appointments are always subject to Senate confirmation, and Clark’s hearing appeared collegial and uneventful.

Clark, the former superintendent of the West Ada School District, spent about five minutes summarizing her 43-year career in education and then answered a few questions about school choice, the state’s 60-percent college completion goal and her vision for innovation.

Several committee members thanked Clark for dedication to public education. No questions touched on the recent infighting between Clark and West Ada trustees, or her abrupt resignation in October.

As planned, committee members did not vote on Clark’s appointment Tuesday, but that vote could come as soon as Wednesday afternoon, when the committee convenes next.