Little’s education plan: a breakdown

(UPDATED, 3:16 p.m., with comment from Ahlquist campaign.)

On Friday, Lt. Gov. Brad Little released what his campaign called a “comprehensive strategy” for education.

For the most part, the three-page plan builds on several familiar themes from Gov. Butch Otter’s 12 years in office — ideas such as mastery-based learning, an emphasis on improving early reading skills, a dual credit program that allows students to take college-level classes before college and a pledge to upgrade school broadband.

But the plan is still newsworthy.

A few wrinkles

Little’s plan sketches out a few new ideas.

  • Little is recommending a minimum teacher salary of $40,000, “with a focus on tying these pay increases to improving student outcomes, including growth.” The current minimum salary is $34,600 — but could increase to $35,800, under the fourth year of the teacher pay “career ladder.”
  • Little will propose a “signing bonus” for teachers who choose to work in rural school districts. It’s unclear how many teachers could receive a bonus, how large the bonuses would be — and ultimately, how much the plan could cost. Little will seek input from education stakeholders on a plan, Zach Hauge of the Little campaign said in an email Friday.
  • Little recommends allowing colleges and universities to keep the sales tax money they generate on campus. “That money would then be designated to control tuition costs for students.” The plan could shift $2 million to $4 million a year to the colleges and universities, Hauge said.

Two no-shows

There are at least two notable omissions from the plan.

While Little says his education plan will increase school choice, it does not directly address charter schools. Nor does his plan address pre-K. In 2017, Little testified in favor of pre-K in legislative hearings, but in January, Little said he opposed state funding for pre-K.

Some election-year sniping

The Little plan does ratchet up the discussion on education topics, heading into the May 15 Republican primary pitting Little against Boise developer and physician Tommy Ahlquist and U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador. “Little is the only gubernatorial candidate to release a plan that provides a comprehensive strategy and not continuous rhetoric,” the campaign said in its news release Friday.

Specifically, the news release takes a swipe at Labrador. “Unfortunately, some D.C. politicians running for governor have voted to gut rural school district budgets,” Little said.

That’s a reference to Labrador’s opposition to a 2015 bill to extend the Secure Rural Schools program, which provides federal dollars for schools in timber country.

Labrador said he opposed this 2015 bill because it was attached to Medicare expansion, and he has said he supports the Secure Rural Schools program. Labrador’s 2015 vote triggered a public feud between Labrador and U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, who endorses Little.

Little didn’t single out Ahlquist, but that didn’t stop the Ahlquist camp from firing back.

“Professional politician Brad Little has been in office for over 15 years,” Ahlquist campaign manager David Johnston said. “He is not the solution to the problem he helped create.”

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