The GOP’s platform on education: digging into the details

The Republican Party’s platform includes several education planks that align with Idaho policy.

And some K-12 positions that don’t align with Idaho.

Here’s a closer look inside the platform, adopted Monday at the GOP’s national convention in Cleveland:

Common Core. The platform gives a tip of the cap to states that have opted out of the standards movement. “We encourage the parents and educators who are implementing alternatives to Common Core, and congratulate the states which have successfully repealed it.”

That language aligns with presidential nominee Donald Trump’s rhetoric on the standards. It also aligns with the record of Trump’s running mate; in 2014, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a law dumping the Common Core standards, the first law of its kind.

Gov. Butch Otter

In Idaho, however, Common Core remains in place, and Gov. Butch Otter remains a steadfast backer. Education and business groups also support the standards, and repeal efforts have found no traction in the Legislature.

Student testing. The platform attempts to draw a fine line. While criticizing excessive testing and “teaching to the test,” the GOP supports “strong assessments to serve as a tool so teachers can tailor teaching to meet student needs.” The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium exam — a lengthy online exam aligned to Idaho Core Standards — has drawn fire from some legislators. State superintendent Sherri Ybarra seems open to replacing the SBAC, after its three-year trial period comes to an end.

Ybarra-previews-new-education-laws
State superintendent Sherri Ybarra

School funding. From the platform: “The United States spends an average of more than $12,000 per pupil per year in public schools, for a total of more than $620 billion. That represents more than 4 percent of GDP devoted to K-12 education in 2011-2012. Of that amount, federal spending amounted to more than $57 billion. Clearly, if money were the solution, our schools would be problem-free.”

Idaho, one of the nation’s reddest states, has long ranked near the bottom in K-12 spending. According to a January report from the U.S. Department of Education, Idaho ranked last in per-pupil spending in 2012-13.

School choice. The GOP platform endorses a menu of school choice options. — Charter schools, private and parochial schools and home schooling all get a nod. The same goes for a long list of contentious school funding mechanisms. “We especially support the innovative financing mechanisms that make options available to all children: education savings accounts (ESAs), vouchers, and tuition tax credits.”

In Idaho, the school choice record is more mixed. Charter schools have expanded steadily since their inception in 1999, and Otter and Ybarra are vocal charter schools supporters. But Idaho does not offer education savings accounts or tuition tax credits, and the state Constitution forbids vouchers.

Bible in schools. From the GOP platform: “A good understanding of the Bible being indispensable for the development of an educated citizenry, we encourage state legislatures to offer the Bible in a literature curriculum as an elective in America’s high schools.”

The 2016 Legislature passed a bill advocating the use of the Bible and religious works as reference works. Otter vetoed the bill, citing constitutional concerns, but that might not be the final word. Setting up a potential confrontation with Otter, the Idaho GOP endorsed a Bible-in-schools constitutional amendment during its June convention.

Transgender bathrooms. The Obama administration’s controversial transgender student policy “is at once illegal, dangerous, and ignores privacy issues,” according to the platform. Otter and Ybarra have accused the White House of overreach, and Otter supports a lawsuit that seeks to overturn the guidelines. However, the administration’s transgender restroom recommendations are nearly identical to nonbinding guidelines from the Idaho School Boards Association.

Click here to read the GOP platform in full; the education planks appear on pages 33 through 35.