The EDge, Kevin Richert's Idaho Education blog

A long, good look at Common Core politics

Apr 23rd, 2014

Common Core hearing

A Jan. 22 legislative hearing on the Idaho Core Standards.

The Republican infighting over the Common Core standards is not a new phenomenon.

It’s highly visible within Idaho GOP politics. Gubernatorial candidate Russ Fulcher, a one-time Idaho Core Standards supporter, has been trying to hammer incumbent Gov. Butch Otter on the issue. John Eynon, a music and drama teacher in Cottonwood, has tried to use the Common Core issue to differentiate himself from the three other Republicans running for state schools superintendent.

For a longer look — and a look ahead to presidential politics — here’s a good breakdown of the issue from the New York Times’ Jonathan Martin.

Writes Martin: “The health care law may be Republicans’ favorite weapon against Democrats this year, but there is another issue roiling their party and shaping the establishment-versus-grass-roots divide ahead of the 2016 presidential primaries: the Common Core.”

The fight over Common Core — new standards in math and English language arts — reflects two changes within the GOP, Martin writes. First, some Republicans are pushing for a decentralized approach to education, a departure from George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind overhaul, which passed Congress in 2001 with bipartisan support. Second, some Republicans are openly skeptical of the business interests that supported (and continue to support) the new standards.

Superintendent campaign schedule fills up

Apr 23rd, 2014

Are you still trying to get a read on the Republican candidates for state schools superintendent?

You’ll have plenty of chances to hear them for yourselves, and get answers to your questions. Here’s the itinerary:

April 30. Three of the four Republican candidates will square off in an hour-long debate. The KIVI-TV (Today’s 6) debate will begin at 6 p.m. and air live on KIVI in the Treasure Valley, and KSAW in the Magic and Wood River valleys.

KNIN (Fox 9 in the Treasure Valley) will rebroadcast the debate at 4:30 p.m. on May 3.

I’ll be on the reporter panel for this debate, along with Michelle Edmonds and Don Nelson of KIVI and KNIN and Bill Roberts of the Idaho Statesman. We’re looking for questions from viewers, before and during the debate. Submit them to the Idaho On Your Side Facebook page, or send them over Twitter using the #IDOYS hashtag.

Andy Grover of Melba, Randy Jensen of American Falls and Sherri Ybarra of Mountain Home are expected at this debate; John Eynon of Cottonwood says he will not attend, citing a conflict with his teaching responsibilities.

May 5. The Republican candidates have been invited to a City Club of Boise forum.

This forum will be held from 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. at the Grove Hotel. Click here for more information and online registration. The registration deadline is noon on May 1.

Boise State University professor emeritus Jim Weatherby will moderate the forum, and field written questions from the audience.

The May 5 forum is one of a series of political forums planned this year by the City Club. For example, the club will invite Democratic state superintendent’s candidate Jana Jones and the GOP nominee to participate in a followup forum this fall.

(Full disclosure: I am a City Club board member, and I am organizing the May 5 forum on the club’s behalf.)

May 8. The Republican superintendent’s candidates will square off in a debate televised statewide on Idaho Public Television.

The debate will air live at 8 p.m. Mountain time, and will also broadcast at 8 p.m. Pacific time.

Idaho Public Television has an ambitious debate season coming up; nine debates will air between May 1 and May 14. (Here’s the full schedule.)

Idaho Education News’ Clark Corbin will be one of the panelists on this superintendent’s debate.

Read more: We will have full coverage, online and on Twitter, of all three of these events. And click here for our archive on the superintendent’s race so far.

Book fundraiser meets its target

Apr 22nd, 2014

(UPDATED, 11:31 a.m. Tuesday, with details on the book distribution.)

Two Washington women say they have met their goal, and have raised enough money to provide 350 copies of a controversial novel to Meridian students.

Sara Baker, a University of Washington student, and Jennifer Lott of Spokane, Wash., said they wanted to raise the money to buy copies of “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” Sherman Alexie’s 2007 novel remains on limbo in the Meridian School District; the school board has removed the book from the district’s supplemental reading list, amidst complaints about the book’s obscenities and references to masturbation.

The fundraising drive has netted $3,000, Baker told Boise State Public Radio. That should be enough money to buy a book for every student who signed a petition urging the Meridian district to keep the book in the schools.

“I’ve heard from students that said they read the book and really loved it,” Baker told Jessica Robinson of Boise State Public Radio. “I’ve had English teachers tell me that they teach it in their curriculum and it engages students that hate to read. And then just general fans of the book that can’t believe the people who want to ban it even read the same book.”

The books will be handed out starting at 5 p.m. Wednesday, at Julius M. Kleiner Memorial Park, 1900 N. Records Ave., Meridian. (Details from Bill Roberts of the Idaho Statesman.)

Click here for the backstory about the Meridian School Board’s April 1 vote.

Snake River teacher keeps her job

Apr 22nd, 2014

Embattled Snake River High School science teacher will remain on the job — but faces a year’s probation — in the face of a harassment and bullying complaint.

The Eastern Idaho school district announced the decision Monday night, bringing closure to a complaint that has divided the teaching staff.

On Monday, Asmus expressed appreciation for the community’s support, but also said she wants to know why the district found her in violation of district policies and state teachers’ standards.

“That’s serious,” Asmus told the Idaho State Journal.

The harassment and bullying complaint centered on a confrontation between Asmus and Laura Gabrylczyk, a Snake River Junior High School science teacher and the wife of Superintendent Mark Gabrylczyk. The two teachers got into a shouting match over the use of school equipment, according to the district’s findings of fact.

Those findings were something of a mixed bag, the Journal reported. The report praises Asmus as an award-winning teacher who has the support of the community and students, but it also says the veteran teacher has been “intolerant, judgmental and insensitive to the effect her actions were having on other members of the staff.”

Click here for backstory on the district’s hearings on Asmus.

Bedke pushes for lands transfer

Apr 21st, 2014

House Speaker Scott Bedke joined about 50 politicians from nine states Friday, to discuss ways to wrest control of public lands from federal management to state jurisdiction.


House Speaker Scott Bedke

The daylong summit meeting itself was closed to the public, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. But afterwards, Bedke joined about a dozen other elected officials to argue for a transfer.

“It’s time the states in the West come of age,” Bedke said. “We’re every bit as capable of managing the lands in our boundaries as the states east of Colorado.”

Public lands jurisdiction is a contentious issue with a K-12 education connection. Supporters of a transfer say states can better manage public lands, allowing multiple uses that would better fund education. Critics say the exorbitant cost of administration on millions of acres of public lands would exceed any new revenues from state-managed lands.

The Legislature has a committee studying the issue. Its recommendations are not due until 2015, but the 2013 Legislature already passed a resolution demanding just such a transfer.


Blaine picks superintendent finalists

Apr 17th, 2014

Dr. GwenCarol Holmes

GwenCarol Holmes

Dr. Richard Canfield

Richard Canfield

The Blaine County School District has named two finalists for its vacant superintendent’s position, and patrons will have a chance to meet them Tuesday.

The finalists are GwenCarol Holmes, chief academic officer of Alexandria Public Schools in Alexandria, Va.; and Richard Canfield, superintendent for Sandwich Public Schools in Cape Cod, Mass. (Here’s more about both of the finalists, from a district news release and from  Julie Wootton of the Twin Falls Times-News.)

The school district will hold a public forum at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the distance learning lab at Wood River High School in Hailey. The school board hopes to hire a new superintendent by the end of next week.

The post has been vacant since September, when superintendent Lonnie Barber and the district parted ways over what the district called “differences in leadership style and approach.” Barber left with nearly three years left on his contract, and was awarded a $600,000 settlement.

Homedale shifts to four-day schedule

Apr 16th, 2014

Homedale has joined the growing number of Idaho school districts shifting to a four-day schedule.

Trustees approved the change Monday, and the new calendar will go into effect in 2014-15.

Cost was a driving consideration. Citing a 2011 study, Superintendent Rob Sauer has said the move will save the district $40,000 to $70,000 a year.

Homedale is facing a budget crunch, after voters in the Owyhee County district rejected two supplemental levies in 2013. Both levies would have raised $968,200 over two years.

In 2013-14, 40 of Idaho’s 115 school districts used a four-day schedule, as well as nine charter schools. That number increased sharply during the Great Recession, according to State Department of Education records. In 2008-09, at the outset of the recession, only 14 school districts and two charter schools had a four-day calendar.

Here’s more about the Homedale decision from the Idaho Press-Tribune.

Balukoff: Lanza ouster ‘endemic cronyism’

Apr 15th, 2014

Balukoff announcement

A.J. Balukoff

Mike Lanza’s ouster from the state’s education task force effort is a sign of a broken, closed political process, Democratic gubernatorial candidate A.J. Balukoff said Tuesday.

“That’s a sign of a broken, one-party system, of endemic cronyism—and it’s got to end,” Balukoff said in a campaign fundraising email.

Lanza, a driving force behind the repeal of state superintendent Tom Luna’s 2011 education laws, was one of 31 members of Otter’s education task force. The group completed its work last summer, but new groups have been assembled to build on the task force’s recommendations.

Mike Lanza

Mike Lanza

Lanza was pulled from one of these followup groups, weeks after joining Balukoff’s campaign as education adviser and spokesman.

Wrote Balukoff: “(Lanza is) experienced and passionate and I’m thrilled to have him on Team Balukoff.   Having served on more boards than I can count, I know that diversity in opinion only strengthens the board and the organization for which it serves. …

“Punishing Idahoans for having a difference of opinion or belonging to a different party is wrong and it promises that our government will continue to take place behind closed doors, with sweetheart deals, where the people of Idaho are disallowed from having a say.”

Meridian book vote prompts fundraiser

Apr 15th, 2014

Two weeks after Meridian trustees voted to keep a controversial novel in administrative limbo, two women are raising money to put the book into students’ hands.

Jennifer Lott of Spokane, Wash, and Sara Baker of Seattle are raising money to buy 350 copies of “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” They want to buy one book for every student who signed petitions urging the School Board to return the 2007 Sherman Alexie novel to the school reading list.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian“Blocking students from learning about controversial ideas just never seems to work, in my experience,” Lott told the Inlander in Spokane.

According to the Inlander, Lott and Baker are working with a Meridian teacher who hopes to distribute the donated books on April 23, in honor of World Book Night.

Alexie’s novel is written from the perspective of an American Indian teen-ager who is trying to adjust to an all-white high school. Critics object to the book’s profanity and references to masturbation, and say the book advances anti-Christian themes. Supporters say the book delivers a powerful message about assimilation.

The novel had been on the Meridian district’s supplemental reading list, but was removed earlier this year in response to parent complaints. The School Board voted on April 1 to keep the book on hold, search for a possible book to take its place on the supplemental list, and launch a full review of district reading lists. That means the book could be permanently removed from the district’s reading list — or possibly reinstated.

For more reactions to the Meridian School Board vote, click on this link.

Jensen: Give to schools, not campaign

Apr 14th, 2014

State schools superintendent candidate Randy Jensen says he doesn’t want money from his supporters.

Instead, the says he’d like to see supporters donate to the school of their choice — and take advantage of several state and federal tax breaks in the process.

Randy Jensen

American Falls Republican Randy Jensen, announcing his candidacy at the Statehouse in January.

“For the same out-of-pocket expense someone can donate $500 to a school or $100 to my campaign,” Jensen, an American Falls principal, said in a news release Monday. “I would rather a school of the donor’s choice get $500.”

Jensen points out that a state school tax credit can cover up to 50 percent of an individual, family or corporate donation to a school. Other tax credits and deductions can further reduce the out-of-pocket cost.

Jensen is one of four Republicans running in the May 20 GOP primary, along with John Eynon of Grangeville, Andy Grover of Melba and Sherri Ybarra of Mountain Home. Jana Jones of Idaho Falls is the lone Democrat in the race.

It is unclear yet how much money Jensen — or anyone — has raised in this race. All five candidates launched their campaigns earlier this year, and did not have to file annual fundraising reports for 2013. Their pre-primary reports are due May 13.

Here’s the news release from the Jensen campaign:

After November, campaign signs, fliers and buttons will have no more than nostalgic value. According to Randy Jensen his purpose for running for the office of superintendent of public instruction is to add value to Idaho schools.

“From the very beginning of this campaign I said I was running to help Idaho students. I believe I have the experience and understanding to make Idaho schools better in the next four years. If we honestly look at the campaign process, leaflets, mailers, stickers and yard signs will get my name out there, but after November what help is a yard sign with my name on it to a student in Post Falls or Rexburg?” asked Jensen.

Rather than donating to his political campaign Jensen is asking Idahoans to donate to their local schools and take advantage of the Idaho Education Tax Credit. Individuals can receive a tax credit of 50 percent on donations up to $1,000, couples filing jointly can receive the same credit on a donation up to $2,000 and Idaho corporations can receive a 50% tax credit on donations up to $10,000. There are other deductions available as well those making a qualifying Idaho Education Tax Credit donation that file an itemized return can include the donation on their state and federal tax returns as charitable donations.

An individual or couple in the 25 percent tax bracket making a $500 donation to their local school would be eligible for an Idaho Education Tax Credit of $250, federal deduction of $125 and an Idaho tax deduction of $39. The original $500 donation would then only cost that individual or couple $86 out-of-pocket.

“For the same out-of-pocket expense someone can donate $500 to a school or $100 to my campaign. I would rather a school of the donor’s choice get $500. Few people are aware of the great tax advantage of donating to schools.” Jensen added.

Donors can ask districts to use their donations for the program of their choice.  They could buy library books, donate to the band, choir or technology.

“As a school administrator I would use a $500 donation to buy books for our school library,” said Jensen.

Here is what other educators around the state say they would spend $500 on to better the schools they run:

  • Andy Wiseman, Castleford High School: “More student attendance incentives.”
  • Matt Schvaneveldt, Kimberly Middle School: “Classroom technology.”
  • JoAnne Greear, Jenifer Junior High, Lewiston: “I would invite teachers to write mini-grants to fund classroom needs.”
  • Jim Brown, Bridge Academy, Twin Falls: “Evening Parent-Programs that include dinners.”

Jensen said asking citizens to make a donation to their local schools rather than his campaign is about returning focus to helping students.

“Campaigns are a prolonged job interview. By asking you to donate to students and not to my campaign I am really asking you to join in my vision for the office of Idaho superintendent of public instruction. That vision is to do everything we possibly can to give Idaho students every advantage imaginable,” Jensen said.

For more information about the Education Tax Credit contact your local school district office or visit

Each financial situation is unique and must be evaluated as such. Consult a financial adviser to determine specifics of your particular situation.


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