Statehouse roundup, 1.23.17: Adult scholarship bill unveiled

Gov. Butch Otter is taking a second run at an “adult completer” scholarship.

The process began Monday morning, with no debate, as the House Education Committee voted to introduce the latest version of the bill.

The $3 million-a-year adult completer scholarship program is geared toward adults who have earned at least 24 college credits, but have been out of school for at least three years. Eligible students could receive up to $3,000 a year in scholarships.

Marilyn Whitney
Marilyn Whitney

About 28 percent of Idahoans over age 25 have some college credits, but left school before receiving a degree, said Marilyn Whitney, Otter’s education adviser. An adult completer scholarship is part of a multitiered approach to boosting Idaho’s sputtering college completion numbers.

“We know we must do many things,” Whitney said.

House Education voted to print the bill on a unanimous voice vote, and it will likely come back to the committee for a full hearing. If the recent past is any indication, the scholarship bill could run into more resistance as it works its way through the legislative process.

The Senate rejected the adult completer scholarship bill in 2016, on a narrow 16-17 vote. Critics have said the scholarship rewards adults for dropping out of college.

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Supporters have made a few tweaks to this year’s bill, Whitney said. The bill calls for setting up a process that would allow adults to earn college credits for work experience, and would give veterans preference for scholarships.

‘I was unsure which fire to put out’

In other Statehouse news Monday, the Senate Education Committee heard a powerful presentation from the state’s teacher of the year.

Mary Lynn Spiker, a kindergarten teacher at Pocatello-Chubbuck’s Wilcox Elementary School, told senators about the challenges of teaching in a high-poverty school.

Mary Lynn Spiker
Mary Lynn Spiker, Idaho’s teacher of the year

At the start of the school year, the first priority is addressing a range of behavioral issues, from aggressive conduct to toilet training. At one point, she had 12 adults and staffers in the classroom, working with individual students. “I was unsure which fire to put out, because it was an inferno,” she said.

Academics get set aside, at least at the outset. But that changes over time. Spiker also talked, in glowing terms, about Nov. 16 — this year’s first good class day, from the opening bell to the closing bell. Students were focused on literacy workbooks, writing their first sentences and stretching their vocabulary.

Her classes are now on target to meet grade-level standards.

“(But) it’s hard,” she said. “It’s really hard.”

Spiker is scheduled to speak to the House Education Committee Tuesday morning.