State Board meeting likely to shape school policy for years to come

The State Board of Education is about to take action on some of the most-watched and controversial issues facing Idaho public schools.

When the seven-member policy-setting board convenes Wednesday and Thursday in Pocatello, it’s agenda will include Idaho’s plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, a slate of proposed science standards, merit-based salary bonuses for teachers that are called master teacher premiums and a potential expansion of the taxing district for the newly created College of Eastern Idaho.

On top of that, the State Board is expected to consider a slate of proposed administrative rules that will be forwarded to the 2018 Legislature, an update on Idaho’s mastery-based education program, the 2018 legislative agenda and much more.

The decisions the State Board makes are likely to drive much of the education agenda during the 2018 legislative session, and shape school policy for years to come.

To give some idea of the scope of work the State Board members will consider, the agenda packet and supporting reference materials span more than 3,700 typed pages.

Here’s a quick look at three issues on the Board’s agenda, and why they matter:

  • ESSA compliance plan

Idaho education leaders face a Sept. 18 deadline to submit the state’s plan to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act to the federal government. The plan is noteworthy for several reasons. First, it represents Idaho’s application to receive and spend about $83 million in annual federal funding. Second, the plan must include a school accountability plan, which Idaho has been without since state leaders repealed the five-star rating system in 2014. Third, the plan directs the implementation of nine different federal programs, many of which are designed for students with special needs or direct professional development training for teachers.

  • Science standards   

A committee of some of the state’s most-awarded science teachers and industry professionals developed a new slate of science standards that are designed to replace the temporary standards approved by the 2017 Legislature. But state legislators have struggled with how to address concepts such as global warming and human impact on the environment. In 2016, legislators quietly ignored proposed science standards after some aired vague concerns about how the standards address global warming and the age and history of the universe. Then, in 2017, the Legislature approved a temporary slate of science standards after first removing five references to global warming and human activities. One representative who led the effort to remove those sections said the standards did not do enough to “address both sides of the debate.”

  • Master teacher premiums

Since 2015, the Legislature has approved annual raises for teachers under the state’s career ladder salary law. The career ladders was designed to increase teacher retention and recruitment by bringing salaries up and improving morale. Although lawmakers invested in salaries, many of which benefit teachers in the early portions of their careers, veteran educators have complained the program does little to help the state’s most experienced and effective teachers. The master teacher premiums are designed to offer a salary boost to those teachers. The plan is to be revealed this week.

Check back with Idaho Education News Thursday evening for coverage of the State Board’s meeting.