Sen. Shawn Keough, in Boise Monday for a special session of the Legislature, is one of Idaho’s longest serving lawmakers and she sits on three of the most powerful Senate committees.
She was elected to her 10th term in District 1, which serves Idaho’s two northernmost counties. She is a member of the education and transportation committees and vice chair of the influential Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. Each had loaded agendas during the 2015 Legislature from highway funding to teacher pay.
When Sen. Shawn Keough arrived in Boise nearly 20 years ago, she was 36 — looked 25 — and a long drive from her North Idaho home in Sandpoint.
Today, Keough is a grandmother and executive director of the Associated Logging Contractors who has earned a Statehouse reputation of being a diplomat and listener.
She sat down with Idaho EdNews’ North Idaho reporter David Keyes and shared some of her thoughts from the 2015 session.
Idaho lawmakers passed a five-year, $125.5 million teacher salary career ladder plan, increased school funding by 7.4 percent, invested millions in professional development training for teachers and partially restored cuts to districts’ operations funding pools, a funding source sometimes referred to as discretionary spending.
- “Exciting things happened in education. We really found some momentum.”
- “We still aren’t up to pre-recession levels with funding. We climbed a long way back. There was a tremendous shift in how legislators went about discussing funding.”
For the first time during her tenure, the Senate unanimously passed the education budget.
- “We had consensus on everything other than career ladder. The very most conservatives thought the increase was too much and the liberals think that any funding is never enough so we knew we were right in the middle.”
- “The governor listened, the committee listened and many of us really tried to digest what the voters were saying and what the teachers and public wanted.”
- “We have to find a way to attract and keep good teachers in Idaho. This is a crisis. We can’t get teachers in some school districts and there are permanent substitutes in many districts.”
Keough emphasized that it is particularly hard to keep good teachers in her Panhandle area. Priest River is a short drive and a bridge away from Newport, Wash. Teachers have started their careers in West Bonner County only to be lured to Washington for a salary increase.
Keough said she has concerns over dual enrollment course work. A university president was touting the benefits of dual enrollment during a committee meeting this session and mentioned how easy it was to have credits transfer between two-year colleges and the state university system.
“I stopped him and shared some of the frustration my son Brian had as he moved from dual enrollment classes for Sandpoint High School to North Idaho College and how some credits from NIC didn’t transfer to the University of Idaho. I told him that the process isn’t seamless.”
Sen. Keough gave the legislature a ‘B+’ for its efforts in education this session. Gov. Butch Otter gave the Legislature an ‘A’.
The Legislature met on Monday for an “extraordinary session” and settled a child support dispute. It was Keough’s third special session.
“It is important we clean up how to collect child support and restore funding from the federal government,” she said.