House committee approves computer science initiative

The House Education Committee unanimously moved a computer science initiative bill to the House floor Thursday morning.

Reed DeMordaunt
Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, chair of the House Education Committee

House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, an Eagle Republican who owns a software company, is sponsoring the bill. Thirteen people testified in favor of its passage, including Idaho business leaders and educators. No one spoke against the bill.

“Legislation like this gets me excited,” DeMordaunt said. “It’s about creating opportunities that don’t exist today. It can have a deep, profound and lasting effect.”

DeMordaunt said this computer science initiative will interface education and industry. “It engages industry,” he emphasized.

The bill would adopt a set of nationally recognized computer science standards, develop an online repository of instructional resources, provide teachers with professional development training and foster collaboration to create postsecondary computer science courses.

DeMordaunt is seeking to base the initiative out of the state’s STEM Action Center . The bill provides funding for a full-time employee with an estimated cost of $94,300 in next year’s budget for the salary, benefits and operational costs.

The bill seeks collaboration between industry leaders, the STEM Action Center and Idaho’s education entities.

Speaking in favor of the bill were representatives from Zions Bank, Microsoft, Micron, Boise State University and the Idaho Technology Council.

“We need organically grown talent in our state,”said Jay Larsen, CEO of the Idaho Technology Council.

Angela Hemingway, the STEM Action Center’s executive director, told committee members she has received a “flux of letters from industry” in support of this initiative.

“We’re not doing enough but this is a good step in the right direction,” DeMordaunt concluded.

The bill now goes before the full House.

Also Thursday morning, committee members unanimously agreed to send back for more discussion a proposal supported by the State Board of Education to clarify the transfer of sick leave when education employees change jobs.

Blake Youde of the SBOE said it is necessary to improve the definition of “state education entities” to include more organizations, such as the Idaho Digital Learning Academy. He also said public school employees are limited to transferring 90 sick days, while other education employees have no limitations. Committee members asked that the limitations be further discussed.

In other Statehouse news from Thursday:

‘A real sense of urgency.’ The Senate Education Committee heard a sobering assessment on Idaho’s college completion rates — from one of Gov. Butch Otter’s aides.

For several years, college completion numbers have served as the centerpiece of Idaho education reform efforts. But college attendance and college completion numbers are actually dropping. In 2014, 40 percent of Idaho’s 25- to 34-year-olds hold a postsecondary degree or certificate.

Idaho education and political leaders want to boost this number to 60 percent by 2020. That means the state would need to improve college completion rates by five percentage points per year, for the next four years.

“We feel a real sense of urgency around those numbers,” Marilyn Whitney, Otter’s aide on education issues, told Senate Education Thursday afternoon.

Senate Education has given its preliminary backing to a nonbinding resolution voicing support for the 60 percent goal. The committee is expected to hold a hearing on the resolution in the future.

Powdered alcohol. A bill to ban powdered alcohol — also known as “Palcohol” — is taking a detour through the legislative process.

A divided House State Affairs Committee voted to send the bill to the House floor for amendment. (More on the meeting from Nathan Brown of the Twin Falls Times-News.)

The state’s liquor division is pushing for the ban, even though the product is not yet available for sale in the United States. Division officials fear “Palcohol” could be smuggled into school cafeterias or sports stadiums.

Shepherd New
Rep. Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins

‘Maniac’ license plate? Rep. Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins, is taking another run at creating a specialty license plate to raise money for one of his local school districts.

The proposed plate would honor the Orofino High School Maniacs.

The House Transportation Committee voted to introduce the bill, which means it could come back for a full hearing later this session. More on the meeting from Bill Spence of the Lewiston Tribune.

Shepherd pursued a similar bill in 2015, but it did not get out of a House committee.

Idaho Education News writer Kevin Richert contributed to this report.