Lawmakers call for rare summer meeting to address school accountability plan

State lawmakers are taking the rare step of calling together a summertime joint meeting of the House and Senate education committees to bring their colleagues up to speed on state compliance efforts.

House Education Committee Chairwoman Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, and Senate Education Committee Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, scheduled the meeting for 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Statehouse.

A briefing on Idaho’s plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act tops Tuesday’s agenda. Idaho faces a Sept. 18 deadline to submit its plans for school accountability and for spending $83 million in federal funding.

The compliance process has become controversial after members of prominent education groups claimed they were ignored and cut out of developing the plan — sparking a response from the State Board of Education.

The ESSA compliance plan and looming deadline was a major driving force in convening the rare joint education meeting during the legislative offseason.

VanOrden said she and Mortimer learned in the past month that legislators should be briefed on the plan before Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra and the State Board of Education submit it to the feds. VanOrden described the need for legislative oversight by saying “we have to have legislative eyes on it — not necessarily have input on it, but we’re supposed to have eyes on it.”

“Instead of just shooting the plan out to everybody individually, Sen. Mortimer and I decided to bring the committees together and have the State Department of Education present to all of us at once,” VanOrden said. “This is an effort on our part to bring our committees up to speed.”

VanOrden said she has proactively kept herself in the loop on ESSA compliance efforts by working with the National Conference of State Legislatures. But VanOrden said state education leaders have not provided lawmakers with regular updates or briefings on the plan, which amounts to significant policy development.

“I had been involved to that degree only because I inserted myself into the conversation,” VanOrden said. “It’s been an interesting process. As far as the law, it says you have to have stakeholder input, but I think stakeholder input means different things to different people.”

In addition to the ESSA compliance briefing, Tuesday’s agenda also includes discussion of other hot-button issues in education:

  • State Board of Education officials will provide an update on teacher evaluations.
  • State Department of Education leaders will provide a briefing on recent standardized test and SAT results.
  • Idaho Career-Technical Education Administrator Dwight Johnson will offer a presentation on the state of career-technical education in Idaho.

The joint meeting is open to the public and scheduled to run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Lincoln Auditorium, the largest committee room inside the Statehouse.

Efforts to reach Mortimer for comment this week were unsuccessful.

Check back on with Idaho Education News on Tuesday evening for coverage of the joint meeting.
Related story: State Board of Education member reaches out to disgruntled education groups.

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