Otter: Education must be Idaho’s ‘continued focus’

Gov. Butch Otter used his annual address to Boise business leaders to tout Idaho’s recent accomplishments on K-12 — and to promise more of the same.

“Our continued focus has got to be on education,” Otter said at a Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce luncheon Tuesday.

Otter, 6.23.15
Gov. Butch Otter also touted Idaho’s fiscal health during a speech Tuesday — saying tax collections for 2014-15 are $101 million ahead of legislative projections.

Otter described his annual speech to the business community as a “midyear State of the State” address. As with the original State of the State address on Jan. 12, education was a recurring theme.

Otter touted the 2015 Legislature’s beginning steps to implement the 20 recommendations from his education reform task force. Recommendations included the education initiative that dominated the 2015 session: a career ladder designed to boost teacher pay. After several drafts and weeks of closed-door negotiations, a consensus bill passed, and lawmakers funded the first installment of the five-year, $125 million plan.

Otter also talked up a plan that didn’t come from the task force, and didn’t get mentioned in his State of the State — but instead emerged during the course of the legislative session. Otter said Idaho’s new STEM action center will focus the state’s attention on the science, technology, engineering and math disciplines.

“That’s what you are demanding,” Otter told business leaders.

Otter reiterated his pledge to have the action center up and running on July 1.

Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, and House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, pushed for the center. It’s modeled after a similar but much more aggressively funded center in Utah. While Utah lawmakers pumped $20 million of first-year funding into STEM, Idaho is countering with $647,300.

Otter made no mention of a K-12 issue that also dominated the 2015 session — the Idaho Education Network. The statewide broadband system is in mothballs, after a district judge threw out the project contract. That left school districts scrambling to sign short-term broadband contracts, and a legislative interim committee will spend the summer studying the state’s broadband options.