Turnaround schools bill heads to Senate floor

The 2019 version of a bill designed to help low-performing schools is going to the Senate floor.

If passed, the “turnaround schools” bill would assign professional consultants to schools or districts that commit to a three-year improvement plan.

The help would be available to schools that rank in the bottom 5 percent statewide, based on State Board of Education criteria. But Senate Bill 1029 is voluntary. Low-performing schools would have to opt in — and the bill’s sponsor, Senate Education Committee Chairman Dean Mortimer, conceded that the idea isn’t for everyone.

“There are schools that are going to be very, very reluctant to do anything,” said Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls. “And I say, shame on them.”

The turnaround bill is voluntary, but not without potential consequences. If a school fails to improve, even after a three-year turnaround period and a two-year extension, the State Board can “increase or reduce funds and resources allocated to the school.”

The bill would build on two existing State Board line items. The board has $1 million for administrator training, which could be used to train turnaround consultants. The board is also spending $750,000 a year to help low-performing schools. Under a contract with the State Board, the University of Idaho is using this money to help six Idaho districts: American Falls, Blackfoot, Bruneau-Grand View, Buhl, Plummer-Worley and Potlatch.

Mortimer says he would like to pursue an additional $1.25 million, which could allow the state to work with an additional seven to nine low-performing schools. That money would have to come from a separate spending bill.

Senate Education passed SB 1029 Thursday, and sent it to the full Senate with a recommendation that it pass. After about an hour’s debate, Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, cast the sole vote against the bill.

The Senate passed a similar turnaround bill in 2018. The House Education Committee endorsed it as well, but the bill was abruptly pulled off the floor in the waning days of the session.

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