Statehouse roundup, 1.29.20: House Education faces pressure to act on standards

Facing pressure from the Senate with nearly four weeks of the legislative session complete, the House Education Committee may soon take action on academic standards and rules.

“You know we have been trying to be very, very patient,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls. “I have been encouraging the chairman and the vice chairman in House Education to move expeditiously as possible so we can see what they have done and try to work with them to get to a good resolution.”

House Education members suggested Wednesday morning they could take action as soon as Thursday. But as of late Wednesday afternoon, Thursday’s agenda makes no mention of standards. Earlier in the day, two committee members requested additional meetings to make sure they are on the same page before charging ahead.

At any rate, the complicated and divisive rules and standards debate that has dominated the first few weeks of the session in unprecedented ways might come to a head one way or the other.

Unlike its counterpart in the Senate, House Education has expended considerable resources to conduct lengthy hearings over Common Core-aligned standards in math and English, as well as science standards.

Rep. Lance Clow

“We’ve been encouraged to get to those rules, and get them moving,” House Education Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, said Wednesday.

A majority of professional educators who testified at the Statehouse over the previous two weeks supported the standards, saying they create solid expectations for students, provide guidance for less-experienced teachers and provide continuity from one grade level to the next.

On the other hand, some parents, a current and retired school board member, multiple legislators and Idaho Freedom Foundation officials have called for widespread removal of the standards, which they say are inappropriate, represent a one-size-fits-all approach and fail students. Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, also read a letter to House Education from Madison School District Superintendent Geoff Thomas, who has decried Common Core for years.

Timing is a factor. While House Education conducted its divisive hearings, Senate Education kept a low profile, waiting for the House to take the first step.

Mortimer said his committee has heard every pending rule to come before it except for the omnibus rule, which contains the academic standards and other rules House Education is scrutinizing.

“We felt like it is important to lend support to any effort in the House to have the opportunity to look at the rules as they felt fit,” Mortimer said. “We feel like there has been lot of work done on the House side and we would like, however, to address the rules and get to a resolution and get on to bills and other hearings.”

Meanwhile, Senate Education faces a Feb. 10 deadline to introduce new legislation — a deadline that does not apply to House Education.

“We’ve been hoping to be out in front and get a decision forward before the Senate took action, and they’ve been getting impatient,” Clow said.

Timing is important. If the Senate’s patience runs out and Senate Education takes action to approve standards and rules, it could thwart any House effort to remove standards or pick them apart.

Under joint legislative rules, the House and Senate would have to agree in order to remove standards and rules from the books. If only the House repeals standards, the standards would remain in place.

When a motion finally comes, it could be exceedingly complicated. Legislators are dealing with all existing rules left on the books, known as the omnibus rules. There are 12 education-related chapters altogether. Legislators may address one chapter at a time or deal with the entire omnibus at once while making surgical incisions to remove individual or entire sets of standards, supporting content, graduation requirements, assessment rules or teacher-evaluation procedures.

Rep. Ryan Kerby

“I know we have a lot of people in here trying to change some of those (rules),” said House Education Vice Chairman Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth.

At the end of Wednesday’s meeting, Clow circulated a draft of a concurrent resolution that — if introduced and passed — would create a legislative interim committee to undertake “a study of the content standards and accountability and assessment structures in public schools.”

Clow did not call for a vote on the resolution but shared a copy with the news media and asked his committee to consider the idea and share feedback later.

Throughout the year, several educators and Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra have expressed concerns over what would happen if legislators repealed all academic standards without replacing them.

To date, nobody who opposed the standards has seriously proposed a replacement.

“Why are we still digging into this debate and creating this trepidation for educators?” Nampa instructional specialist Michelle VanBeek asked legislators last week.

Flexible scheduling derailed — for now

Lawmakers tabled one bill to provide parents some say in their kids’ elementary school schedule.

But that doesn’t mean the idea is dead.

A divided Senate Education Committee Tuesday derailed a bill to allow parents to negotiate a flexible school schedule — as long as their elementary school students are a year ahead of their classmates, and stay there.

Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett

Sen. Steven Thayn said his Senate Bill 1239 was designed to give children an incentive to learn, and give parents an incentive to help their kids outside the classroom.

“This bill is about families and family unity,” said Thayn, R-Emmett. “There’s some really solid upside potential and very little downside potential.”

Thayn said the concept has been field-tested — by his grandchildren. They have been attending school in Challis on a flexible schedule and homeschooling the rest of the time, with the blessing of school administrators.

But there’s a cost for the district, Thayn said. Under the state’s funding formula, based on a school’s average daily attendance, Challis loses $110 for every day one of Thayn’s grandchildren study at home.

Under SB 1239, schools would still receive full funding for students on a flexible schedule, even though these students would need to attend class only 55 percent of the time.

Two of Thayn’s constituents testified in favor of his bill. Ashley Walton, a mother and farmer in Gem County, said a flexible schedule would better fit her lifestyle. Her family can’t arrange a vacation in midsummer, but she said Thayn’s bill would allow her family to take a vacation in midwinter.

Idaho Education Association President Layne McInelly applauded Thayn’s creative approach, but said he was concerned that the bill relies too heavily on standardized tests to determine whether a child is ahead of grade level. He said he would like educators to help come up with other criteria.

“We are willing to work with Sen. Thayn to get this accomplished,” McInelly said.

It appears the union will get the opportunity.

Senate Education closed Tuesday’s meeting by voting to hold SB 1239 — an action that might kill the bill for the year. After the meeting adjourned, Thayn, Mortimer, Sen. Lori Den Hartog and IEA leaders huddled at the dais to talk about a possible rewrite. Mortimer urged lawmakers and IEA officials to come up with new language within a few days.

Here again, the deadline is an issue. Senate Education must consider any new bills by Feb. 10 — although a bill could be introduced in another Senate committee and routed back to Senate Education for a full hearing.

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