Otter pledges five-year education plan


Otter/AP, 1.3.14

In a question-and-answer session with reporters, Gov. Butch Otter also reaffirmed his support for the Idaho Core Standards.

Setting the stage for the 2014 legislative session — and for several legislative sessions to follow — Gov. Butch Otter says he will lay out a five-year plan to overhaul Idaho education.

The five-year plan will implement, gradually, the 20 recommendations from Otter’s 31-member education task force.

“We can’t do that all in one year,” Otter told reporters Friday morning, at a legislative preview sponsored by the Associated Press.

The task force’s recommendations — which include a teacher salary career ladder, a reversal of recession-era cuts in K-12 funding, and a renewed push for classroom technology — offer a blueprint for education reform, Otter said Friday. But these recommendations come at a heavy cost — estimated at $350 million or more, although Otter misspoke twice Friday morning, pegging the collective price tag at $350,000.

“I wish that were the case,” Otter quipped.

Otter didn’t offer many details about his five-year plan; those details may come Monday, when he launches the 2014 legislative session with his annual state of the state address. But Otter said his plan will be flexible, to allow for fluctuations in the state’s economy. Year One of the overhaul will be written in ink, said Otter; “we will write the next four years in pencil.”

Otter said he was encouraged by the wide-ranging support for the task force recommendations. Legislative Democrats have drafted bills to implement some of the task force’s recommendations, and Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna is on board in support. Otter said he hopes this broad support — in the education, political and business communities — will translate into making a “down payment” on changing the state’s education philosophy.

Here’s what Otter had to say on other key topics:

The budget. Otter didn’t delve into numbers, but said he will try to hold the line on spending. “I’m not going to let the government grow back at the same rate the economy grows.”

Otter has indicated his 2014-15 budget will reflect a 3 to 3.5 percent revenue increase. Luna is seeking a 5.4 percent increase for K-12.

Common Core. Otter was unwavering in his support of one plank of the task force’s platform: Idaho Core Standards, the new and controversial math and English language arts standards, established in Idaho classrooms this school year.

The new standards will allow Idaho to compare its student performance with other states, said Otter. And the governor pointed out that the Common Core standards had “healthy” support in the Legislature in 2011, when House and Senate education committees endorsed them.

“I believe it was the right thing to do,” Otter said of the 2011 vote.

Idaho Core Standards could face some political blowback during the 2014 legislative session. One of Otter’s likely opponents in the May 20 GOP primary, state Sen. Russ Fulcher of Meridian, is one lawmaker publicly questioning the new standards. Fulcher endorsed the standards in Senate committee in 2011.

Election-year politics. Otter sidestepped questions about Fulcher, and 2014 election politics.

Fulcher will remain in Senate Republicans’ leadership team for 2014, in a group that routinely meets with Otter to discuss legislative strategy. Otter said Fulcher would be welcome at the table — but he wouldn’t say whether he would speak more cautiously about policy matters, with a political opponent in the room.

While Fulcher has formally announced his bid for governor, with a statewide series of appearances in November, Otter has made no such announcement. He has said he plans to run, and has hired business lobbyist Jayson Ronk to run his 2014 campaign.

When a reporter invited Otter to make an election announcement Friday morning, the governor declined. “Good try. … We have a lot of work to do between now and the primary.”

More reading, on another topic: Otter orders state to take over troubled private prison (from the Spokane Spokesman-Review’s Betsy Russell).