Little plans to follow his predecessor’s blueprint with new task force

For the past five years, the recommendations issued by former Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education dominated the education policy arena.

The teacher salary career ladder. The literacy initiative. Advanced opportunities. Mastery-based education. Operational funding. The transition to a new, enrollment-based funding model.

Each initiative was rooted in one of the 20 recommendations Otter’s task force delivered in 2013.

Now, first-year Gov. Brad Little wants to use that task force as a blueprint for his new education task force, Our Kids, Idaho’s Future, which convenes Monday.

“The task force on public education from 2013 and its five-year plan provided a successful model for education policymaking,” Little said when he unveiled his task force May 15. “The first task force was the force behind an unprecedented, sustained effort to improve Idaho education, invest in raising teacher salaries, focus resources on expanding early literacy and grow dual-credit opportunities for our high school students.”

Idaho School Boards Association Executive Director Karen Echeverria agreed the 2013 task force helped drive the education agenda by developing consensus around different planks of a five-year plan. But she said it did more than that. The task force unified education advocates who were frustrated and fractured in the wake of the voter repeal of Propositions 1, 2 and 3, former state superintendent Tom Luna’s education overhaul laws. A successful task force brings together key players from a variety of sources and builds consensus on a path forward.

“Gov. Otter’s task force really brought everybody back to the table and got us all on the same page remembering that we all are trying to accomplish the same things, but had different ideas about how to get there,” she said.

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A hallmark of the last task force was pushing to raise teacher pay. The Legislature followed the task force’s recommendations by increasing education funding and awarding increases in teacher pay five years in a row. The Legislature also agreed to increase starting teacher pay to $40,000 and finance a first year of master teacher premiums, or bonuses.

Most original recommendations were (at least partially) implemented, but Idaho did not make great academic gains over the last five years.

Idaho did not move the needle on its most high profile education goals, including the goal to have at least 60 percent of young Idahoans obtain a college degree or technical certificate. College go-on rates also stagnated.

Reading scores made no gains and scores dropped on Idaho’s college entrance exam of choice, the SAT. And though Idaho’s high school graduation rate has improved, Idaho lost ground in national rankings.

Like the old task force, the new group’s roster includes a host of business leaders, educators, parents, taxpayers and policymakers, including legislators.

Not everyone was a fan of the 2013 task force.

Wayne Hoffman, president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a conservative advocacy group, argued that previous task forces succeed in spending lots of taxpayer money without improving education.

And Rep. Judy Boyle, a Midvale Republican who sits on the House Education Committee, said the task force handcuffed legislators by limiting the agenda of policy proposals they could bring forward.

Of the original task force’s 20 recommendations, two stand out as unfinished.

The first is the ongoing effort to transition Idaho’s public education system to an enrollment-based funding formula. The 2019 Legislature debated this proposal for months, but no bill made it to the floor a vote.

The other unimplemented recommendation? A performance-based professional growth model called tiered licensure. Tiered licensure was originally pitched as a companion piece to the career ladder, but abandoned in the wake of negative feedback from educators. However, one could argue the tiered natured of the “residency” and “professional” compensation rungs of the career were related to tiered licensure.

Check back with Idaho Education News Monday and throughout the summer for coverage of Little’s new K-12 education task force.

 

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