Education news roundup: Monday, Feb. 17

Otter school choice, 2.17.14
Gov. Butch Otter fields a few student questions at a charter school rally Monday.

School choice. Joined by parents and school choice advocates, Idaho charter school students gathered on the Statehouse steps Monday to rally for equitable funding.

In particular, Lori Clooney of the Colorado Coalition of Cyberschool Families put in a pitch for closing the funding gap for the state’s seven virtual charter schools — a discrepancy she pegged at $1,500 per student.

“We need policymakers and the public at large to know that these schools are working so well,” Clooney said.

The 2013 Legislature passed a bill allowing the state’s 41 brick-and-mortar charter schools to receive stipends to offset some building costs, but the bill language does not apply to virtual schools.

Gov. Butch Otter also spoke to the rally, saying school choice can only serve to improve the state. “You are right at the heart of it.”

The annual charter school event was part of a day of Presidents Day rallies and protests at the Statehouse. The event coincided with an “Add the Words” protest on all four floors of the Rotunda, as demonstrators urged the Legislature to provide anti-discrimination protections to gays, lesbians and transgender Idahoans.

Top teachers. Idaho teacher of the year Jamie Esler and Milken Award recipient Katie Graupman made the rounds at Statehouse education committees Monday, with a common message.

Both urged the Legislature to boost funding for schools.

Esler, who teaches at Coeur d’Alene’s Lake City High School, was honored for his work on the Confluence Project — a hands-on collaboration that provides students at six high schools with the chance to collect on-the-ground water data. But the project is funded largely through grants — and its future is in “limbo,” he said, pending the outcome of an Environmental Protection Agency grant application.

This funding uncertainty isn’t unique, Esler said, and doesn’t only affect “innovative” programs. A growing number of school districts have come to depend on voter-approved supplemental property tax levies. “Supplemental levies are no longer supplemental. They are crucial.”

Graupman urged the education committees to implement the 20 recommendations from Gov. Butch Otter’s education reform task force. Minutes before her House Education Committee testimony, lawmakers approved a $15.9 million teacher leadership “premium” bill — a down payment on a $253 million teacher career ladder overhaul.

Graupman cited several of the task force recommendations, from enhanced training and collaboration to restoring $82.5 million in district operational funding, cut during the recession.

“All of this will require money,” said Graupman, an English and journalism teacher at Spirit Lake’s Timberlake High School. “Idaho students deserve the best educators, and the best educators deserve your support.”

Ag programs. A bill urging the state to put $604,000 into agriculture education programs is headed to the Senate floor.

The Senate Education Committee gave its unanimous support to Senate Bill 1275. Twin Falls Republican Sen. Jim Patrick’s calls for a $504,000 incentive grant program for top-performing ag teachers, and $100,000 in grants to allow school districts to start up or re-establish ag programs. The bill does not identify a funding source, and Patrick says private donations could help cover the grants.

Epi-pens. Senate Education also gave unanimous backing to Senate Bill 1327. The bill would authorize schools to stockpile epinephrine auto-injectors to treat extreme allergic reactions.

The program would be voluntary, and sponsoring Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, expects maunfacturers would make the auto-injectors available for free.

The bill heads to the Senate floor.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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