Legislative roundup, 2.23.21: The education budget-writing process begins

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee began the business of setting education-related budgets Tuesday.

The committee began work with two smaller education budgets: career-technical programs and the STEM Action Center.

Here’s the rundown:

Career-technical education. The budget includes a $4.75 million request from Gov. Brad Little, to beef up workforce training centers and secondary and postsecondary CTE programs. It’s one line item from Building Idaho’s Future, Little’s plan to invest in infrastructure programs and cut taxes.

JFAC wants to spend the $4.75 million gradually. The workforce training centers would receive $125,000 this budget year, to work on programs to support the food processing and manufacturing sectors. The remaining $4,625,000 would roll into the 2021-22 budget year, which begins July 1.

In 2021-22, CTE would receive slightly more than $73 million from the general fund, about a 7 percent increase. JFAC approved the spending plan on an 18-2 vote, with Republican Reps. Priscilla Giddings of White Bird and Ron Nate of Rexburg voting no.

STEM Action Center. After some debate, the committee went along with Little’s budget recommendation.

All told, the center will receive slightly less than $3.1 million in general fund money, a 0.3 percent increase.

Budget-writers nearly deadlocked over one accounting shift in the budget request: moving $74,100 in personnel costs to the taxpayer-supported general fund. Little and the center wanted to move the salary for a research analyst to general fund, instead of relying on private donations to fund the position.

On a 12-8 vote, JFAC supported the shift, and the governor’s budget request.

Both budgets will still need to pass both houses.

JFAC is scheduled to write up the higher education and community college budget bills on March 3, and the K-12 budget bills on March 12.

Lawmakers express their dismay with ISAT

The House and Senate education committees scarcely mentioned the Biden administration’s spring student testing plans during a Tuesday meeting on assessments.

Instead, lawmakers took a long view, with several making clear that they want to dump Idaho’s standardized test.

“This is not good,” said Rep. Charlie Shepherd, R-Pollock, lamenting a computerized exam that he considers little more than a time-consuming test of student typing skills.

Shepherd wasn’t alone in his criticisms during Tuesday afternoon’s uncommon House-Senate session.

Rep. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, said he wished the state would keep its testing options open now, rather than keeping its current Idaho Standards Achievement Test in place for the next couple of years. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, said it’s a “given” that the ISAT is aligned to Idaho’s version of Common Core academic standards — which Moon and other lawmakers have sought to get rid of for years.

But at least in the short term, the ISAT might remain in place simply because Idaho’s academic standards are in limbo.

The state is rewriting the standards, but lawmakers won’t take action on new standards before 2022. And until the state knows what the new standards look like, it’s premature to change its assessment, State Board of Education President Debbie Critchfield told lawmakers.

That also means the ISAT could be around for a while — and administered to some 165,000 students per year, from third through eighth grade and into high school. It generally takes three to five years to develop a new assessment to align with new standards, depending on how extensively a state overhauls its standards.

“It’s never a particularly quick process,” said Kevin Whitman, the State Department of Education’s director of assessment and accountability.

The federal government requires states to assess students, with exams aligned to their standards. And after a pandemic-driven pause in 2020, the Biden administration will require states to administer tests this spring. The tests won’t be used to grade the schools, and states will have several test options: They can administer shorter tests, remote exams or administer the tests in the summer or fall.


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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