Lawmakers partially fulfill task force goals

Lawmakers embarked on the 2014 session with a clear mandate from educators, stakeholders and Gov. Butch Otter: implement a set of 20 reform recommendations.

Otter State of State folo
Gov. Butch Otter

The 74-day session, the shortest in a decade, has come and gone – with legislators making partial progress on 13 recommendations from Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education.

Lawmakers didn’t touch seven recommendations, and haven’t fully implemented any of the 20.

Still, Otter and several task force members said they are satisfied with these first steps, and recognize that hard work and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of funding challenges remain.

“Everything we identified in October that can be done and should be done in this legislative session is happening,” said State Superintendent Tom Luna, a task force member. “Those required a pretty significant financial investment this year, and we all know it’s going to take four to five years to implement these.”

Last year, Otter’s task force solicited ideas from all corners of the state before issuing recommendations with nearly unanimous approval.

The cost has been estimated to reach or exceed $400 million, and Otter and others called for a roughly five-year implementation phase.

Otter said lawmakers could trim a year off that goal if they maintain this year’s pace. “Nothing tells me we have to wait five years.”

But what about the seven recommendations that weren’t touched by lawmakers?

Before the session, Democrats wrote a package of four bills, which received early bipartisan support and were intended to partially implement the recommendations. None were even introduced.

“The system we have here allows committee chairmen to decide, essentially, what will be heard – whether it’s an education task force bill, a pre-K bill, an Add the Words bill or even a system we have,” said House Assistant Minority Leader Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise. “If somebody doesn’t want to hear it and they’re in the right position, you don’t get to hear it.”

But Democrats said they shared their legislation with Republicans and some proposals were incorporated into bills that did pass.

Still, Luna said, “I’ll be frank: I think they should have been printed and maybe had a hearing.”

Idaho Education Association President Penni Cyr, a task force member, said she didn’t expect lawmakers to address all 20 recommendations this year. Instead, everyone understood the magnitude of the process would require several years.

“I don’t think we recommend, out of the box, all 20,” Cyr said. “We acknowledge these recommendations are 30,000-foot recommendations. There is a whole lot of detail on every one of them that still needs to be developed.”

Additionally, committees and working groups convened by the State Board of Education and other organizations will work this summer to develop specific plans for other recommendations – plans that will be forwarded to the 2015 Idaho Legislature.

Here’s a point-by-point breakdown of the 20 recommendations – and where they stand:

  • Content mastery-based education system: No progress. Students would advance in school based on content mastery, instead of sitting in classes for an academic year. “It’s not as simple as passing a rule or law to allow mastery, we did that three years ago,” Luna said. “You have to look at funding formulas and look at calendars and minimum days.”
  • Support Idaho Core Standards: Partial implementation. The standards were adopted in 2011, and the 2014-15 school budget funds professional development so teachers can continue training and implementing the new English language arts and math standards. Additionally, the session ended without a serious threat to repeal or halt the standards.
  • Literary proficiency: No progress during the legislative session. A committee is being formed to examine reading standards and the Idaho Reading Indicator, in hopes of improving literacy rates by third grade.
  • Advanced opportunities for students: Partial implementation. Senate Bill 1233, signed into law Wednesday, allows high school students to take dual credit and professional-technical courses, with the state picking up some of the tab. The state will pay $200 of the cost for juniors and $400 for seniors – up to 75 percent of the credit costs.  The law received bipartisan support, and was pushed by Burgoyne and Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett.
  • Revamp the state’s accountability structure. Not implemented. Some legwork will be left to a committee formed by the State Board to study structure and governance.
  • Empower autonomy by removing constraints: Not implemented. The State Board’s structure and governance committee is expected to look at this.
  • Annual strategic planning, assessment and continuous focus on improvement: Partial implementation. Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, pushed House Bill 521, signed into law March 18. The law requires districts to develop a data-driven strategic plan for student success, and provides money for training school board members.
  • Statewide electronic collaboration system: Not implemented. Through the Idaho System of Educational Excellence, the state shares information back and forth with school districts. But some districts dropped the Schoolnet instructional management system in favor of their own system, and ISEE and Schoolnet are set to be reviewed by the Office of Performance Evaluations.
  • High-speed bandwidth and wireless infrastructure: Partial implementation. Amid funding problems, legislators paid this year’s bills and will keep the Idaho Education Network high school broadband system running through February 2015. But they did not expand the project to all schools, as the task force recommended.
  • Educator and student technological devices: Partial implementation. The K-12 budget includes $3 million for another round of technology pilot programs. But the state has not yet moved toward a plan to offer every student and teacher access to a technology device.
  • Restoration of operations funding: Partial implementation. This year’s budget includes $35 million to help reverse $82.5 million in recession-era cuts in operations funding – money districts use for insurance and benefits, transportation, utilities and, occasionally, supplementing educators’ salaries.
  • Career ladder compensation model: Partial implementation. This is perhaps the most expensive recommendation, at more than $250 million. The K-12 budget includes $15.8 million for teacher leadership premiums – a small component to the career ladder. A technical advisory committee is developing the career ladder, which was not ready for action this year.
  • Enrollment model of funding schools: Not implemented. Idaho funds schools based on complex formulas involving average daily attendance. Lawmakers made no significant progress on this issue, but the State Board’s structure and governance committee is expected to look at it.
  • Tiered licensure: Not implemented. This is closely related to a career ladder, and the technical advisory committee is undertaking the plan.
  • Mentoring: Partial implementation. Leadership premiums can be awarded to teachers who mentor other educators. Many districts already use professional learning communities of educators to facilitate teamwork, professional development and mentoring.
  • Ongoing job-embedded professional learning: Partial implementation. The K-12 budget includes money for teachers’ professional development. The state also offers Idaho Core Standards coaches and a regional math center.
  • Site-based collaboration: Partial implementation. Like the previous recommendation, funding for professional development is included in the K-12 budget. Specific rules and programs may be created in future years.
  • Training for administrators, superintendents and school boards: Partial implementation. Horman’s House Bill 521 provides money for training school board members.  The Idaho School Boards Association and Idaho Association of School Administrators also offer training to their members.
  • Pre-service teaching opportunities through state colleges: Partial implementation. Idaho is one of seven states that received a two-year $237,000 Network for Transforming Educator Preparation grant. The money will be used to help ensure teachers are ready to take on a classroom on their first day on the job.
  • Participation in the Council of Chief State School Officers’ “Our Responsibility, Our Promise” program: Partial implementation. This recommendation encompasses many other task force recommendations, and is directly related to the  two-year $237,000 NTEP grant and the pre-service teacher training recommendation.

Disclosure: Schoolnet was funded through a startup grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, which also funds Idaho Education News.


Clark Corbin

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