Education news roundup: Friday, March 7

Teacher evaluations. In the closest vote of the day Friday, the House narrowly passed an educator evaluation bill that has been strongly opposed by all major education groups.

Legislators voted 35-31 to pass House Bill 556, which supporters say is designed to give parents and students a stronger voice in the school system.

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Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian

But opponents charge that the bill places undue financial and time burdens on school districts, may violate a recommendation from Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education, would be difficult to parse objectively and may require 5-year-olds to evaluate their teachers, principals and superintendents – with job security and pay on the line.

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, pointed out that the Idaho School Boards Association, Idaho Association of School Administrators and Idaho Education Association all opposed the bill.

“I think we’ve been down this path once before, when we assumed we know a lot more than the professionals in education,” Rusche said, referencing the voter-repealed Students Come First laws. “It didn’t end well last time.”

Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, attempted to overcome opposition by suggesting that surely some other education groups, and parents’ groups, likely supported the bill.

Said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian: “Not officially, no.”

The original vote was 34-32, but Rep. James Holtzclaw, R-Meridian, later asked permission to change his vote to “yes” – resulting in the 35-31 tally.

Legislators debated his request, before eventually allowing it.

House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, then lectured lawmakers to “make a thoughtful vote and stick with it.”

The legislation next moves to the Senate, and is likely to land with the Senate Education Committee.

Class size database. With little discussion, the House Education Committee voted unanimously to endorse a bill that would create a database on school class sizes.

“This has been a debate that’s been going on for a long time,” said Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, who is sponsoring Senate Bill 1326.

The state does not compile a database that measures class size. Ward-Engelking says the information is essential as Idaho weans school districts from its so-called “use-it-or-lose-it” spending flexibility, which allows districts to hire 9.5 percent fewer teachers than the state funds.

SB 1326 heads to the House floor. It has already passed the Senate unanimously.

Sunset clauses. House Education also voted unanimously to keep three school labor laws on the books for one more year.

The laws would require districts to consider factors other than seniority, when cutting teaching positions; eliminate “evergreen” language in master agreements; and allow cash-strapped districts to cut teacher salaries. All three laws were modeled after the failed Proposition 1 labor law, and passed in 2013 on a one-year basis.

The Idaho School Boards Association, the Idaho Association of School Administrators and the Idaho Education Association all support extending the laws’ “sunset clauses” by another year, to gather more research on the effect of the laws.

All three bills go to the House floor; they have already passed the Senate.