Statehouse Roundup, 1.13.20: Common Core hearings postponed until Wednesday

The House Education Committee is postponing highly anticipated hearings over academic content standards by one day, Vice Chairman Ryan Kerby announced Monday morning.

Now, the so-called Common Core hearings will begin Wednesday morning with a review of English language arts standards.

Rep. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth

Previously, Kerby, R-New Plymouth, announced the hearings were to begin Tuesday. He said House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, requested the change over the weekend to better accommodate people who are interested in attending the hearings or testifying.

The new, tentative schedule is as follows:

  • Wednesday: English language arts standards.
  • Thursday: math.
  • Jan. 20: science.

Kerby said he doesn’t want to change the schedule again. But he said he isn’t sure how many people will show up to testify. Therefore, if there isn’t time for everybody who wishes to testify to speak Wednesday, that hearing would be continued to Thursday. Continuing the English hearing could, in turn, delay the start of the math hearing.

Kerby added that he has reached out to groups who are likely interested in testifying, including the Idaho Freedom Foundation, the Idaho Education Association, the State Department of Education and the State Board of Education, asking them to prioritize inviting more experts and fewer overall speakers.

“We’re try to have fewer speakers but have more experts so we can really dive into what should be in the standards,” Kerby said. “If it looks like 50 people want to testify, we’d have to do a three-minute limit (on testimony). If we’ve just got a few experts, not so much.”

House Education hearings typically begin at 9 a.m. in Room EW 41 in the Statehouse basement. Kerby said, as of Monday morning, the committee plans to use the normal hearing room Wednesday. The committee will not accept remote testimony, meaning anybody wishing to testify will need to travel to the Statehouse and sign in once they arrive in the committee room.

The Legislature is taking the unusual step of reviewing all administrative rules this year, which is why academic standards are coming back before House Education this year.

The Legislature adopted Common Core math and English standards via administrative rule in 2011. Since then, the SDE and SBOE reviewed, revised and renamed them Idaho Content Standards. The Legislature adopted science standards in 2018 via rule following a three-year debate over topics that included human impact on the environment, the age and creation of the universe and the role of “incorporated by reference” documents in administrative rules.

There are several different classifications of rules that are all dealt with a little differently. However, generally speaking, the Legislature can reject a rule or standard in its entirety, reject a portion of a rule or standard, or accept the entire thing.

Generally, both legislative chambers would also need to agree in order to reject a rule or standard.

That means that if House Education repealed academic standards, the Senate would need to agree with that action in order to remove standards. On the other hand, if the House repeals academic standards but the Senate does not, the standards would remain in place.

STEM budget pitch: ‘We simply cannot afford to wait’

Idaho’s unmet need for highly skilled workers is only likely to grow in the next few years, so the time to invest is now, says the head of Idaho’s STEM Action Center.

“We simply cannot afford to wait and act later,” Angela Hemingway told Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee members Monday.

Hemingway’s center is one growth area in Gov. Brad Little’s budget proposal, unveiled last week. Little proposes slightly more than $3 million in general fund spending on the center, a 17.7 percent.

The budget includes $500,000 in permanent funding for the state’s computer science initiative. The state launched the program with grants, industry donations and one-time state funding, including $1 million of taxpayer money for the current budget year.

The STEM Action Center proposed $1 million in permanent computer science funding.

Under questioning from Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, Gideon Tolman of Little’s Division of Financial Management said the $500,000 would help the center better leverage grants and industry donations.

“The one-time funding does not provide a lot of stability from year to year,” Tolman said.

Focused on promoting the “STEM” disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math, the STEM Action Center’s computer science initiative has yielded some success. Over the past two years, the number of students taking computer science classes has increased by 18 percent. “Our work is having a direct effect on our students,” Hemingway told legislative budget-writers.

But the center expects to serve fewer teachers and students this year, Hemingway said, because one-time state funding for the computer science initiative dropped from $2 million to $1 million.

In Monday’s budget presentation, Hemingway emphasized the growing demand for STEM workers.

Last year, Idaho had 7,633 unfilled STEM jobs — which would pay some $516 million in annual salaries and generate $27.2 million in tax revenues.

Citing state Department of Labor projections, Hemingway said Idaho could have an additional 19,000 new STEM jobs by 2026.

Following Hemingway’s report, the group pushing a ballot initiative to raise taxes and increase K-12 funding took lawmakers to task.

“This report confirms the immediate need for serious investments in Idaho’s public schools,” Reclaim Idaho said in a news release. “The incremental changes being proposed by state lawmakers are only prolonging the suffering for Idaho families. … We cannot solve Idaho’s jobs and prosperity crisis through baby steps.”

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