Statehouse roundup, 2.12.20: Senate reinstates math, English and science standards

It took the House five weeks to repeal math, English and science standards. It took the Senate 35 minutes to pass them.

Voting unanimously Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee approved nearly 150 page­s of education rules — including the hotly debated academic standards.

For more than 15,000 educators statewide, it means they will continue to use the same standards as a roadmap to teach Idaho’s 300,000 K-12 students. And for legislators, it means they will continue to haggle over possible changes in the standards — for the rest of the 2020 session, and beyond.

“If we don’t have a plan in place … it’s not productive disruption,” said Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, moments before Wednesday’s vote. “It’s destructive disruption.”

Wednesday’s Senate Education vote was one of the most anticipated decisions of the session. For weeks, most of the action on education rules unfolded in the House Education Committee, which held hours of public hearings on the math, English and science standards before voting for a complete repeal on Feb. 5. A day earlier, House Education voted to repeal certification requirements for beginning teachers; the Senate Education vote reverses that decision as well.

But while the Senate Education vote was long awaited, it also had the feeling of a done deal. The committee and the full Senate had already signaled its intentions.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls

On Monday, Senate Education Chairman Dean Mortimer floated a compromise: creating a legislative interim committee to study the academic standards and perhaps issue its recommendations in 2021. Late Wednesday morning, the Senate overwhelmingly approved the idea.

“Isn’t it imperative that we work together to make every effort to make education better?” said Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls. “I believe this resolution is the first step in making this happen.”

The resolution passed on a 31-3 vote, over the objections of Democrats Michelle Stennett of Ketchum, Maryanne Jordan of Boise and Mark Nye of Pocatello.

With that vote on the books — and all of Senate Education on board with Mortimer’s proposal — the committee hearing was perfunctory.

Only four speakers testified, all in favor of keeping the rules intact. Rod Gramer of Idaho Business for Education and Jay Larsen of the Idaho Technology Council said rigorous standards are needed to prepare students for the workplace. Quinn Perry of the Idaho School Boards Association spoke against the upheaval that would come from repealing academic standards. Lori Sanchez of the Idaho Association of Colleges for Teacher Education spoke of the need for education certification.

And then, senators talked about staying the course. For now, at least.

“We know we have to change and continue to learn and evolve,” said Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian. “Our standards should never be static.”

However, it’s unclear exactly what will happen next.

First, there is still the matter of how the House and the Senate will settle their differences over rules review. Under the current legislative process, most agency rules go into effect with the consent of only one committee — which is what happened in 2018, when Senate Education passed science standards over the House’s objections.

Many House members have bristled about this aspect of the rules process, and the 2019 session ended with a House-Senate deadlock over ratifying rules. That impasse has led to an unprecedented review of thousands of pages of old rules — such as the Common Core-aligned math and English language arts standards, adopted in 2011.

Six weeks into the 2020 session, the House and the Senate still haven’t settled their differences over the rules process. “It’s not done when we do this,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise, shortly before the committee vote.

Second, it’s unclear how the House and Senate education committees will settle their differences about standards. Mortimer’s interim committee proposal still needs to pass the House — which means it needs to get through House Education first.

Rep. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth.

“There’s a lot of talk going on,” House Education vice chair Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, said after attending the Senate Education hearing. An interim committee, said Kerby, is “one approach that may happen.”

And while Senate Education essentially vetoed House Education’s actions, Kerby went out of his way to give the Senate some credit. Mortimer, Thayn, Winder and Den Hartog are all saying what House members have been saying: It’s time to settle the divisive issue over standards.

“We’re right where we figured we’d be,” said Kerby. “I think there’s going to be some more water running underneath the bridge.”

Education chairmen spell out budget priorities

The leaders of the Legislature’s education committees recommended their funding priorities to budget writers Wednesday morning.

Mortimer told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee that his members’ top two priorities are K-3 literacy and teacher compensation through the career ladder salary law.

Mortimer said eight of Senate Education’s nine members view early literacy as their top priority, while six of nine chose teacher compensation as a top priority.

He asked committee members to list three choices, explaining the overlap.

Mortimer also said four committee members said students’ social-emotional learning and mental health well-being are top priorities, while three chose educators’ health care as a top priority.

“Education is strong and getting stronger,” Mortimer said. “Now this doesn’t mean we are where we need to be.”

Moments later, House Education Committee Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, focused on four priorities:

  • Health insurance for educators.
  • The career ladder.
  • Replenishing the $32 million legislators withdrew from the Public Education Stabilization Fund savings account.
  • Respecting the difference between writing policy and appropriating money.

“Leave the policy to your germane committees,” Clow said. In legislative parlance, “germane committees” is a phrase used to define policymaking committees, such as House Education.

JFAC will soon transition from budget hearings to budget-writing. The K-12 budget, Idaho’s largest general fund expense, is scheduled to be set March 3.

Idaho Education News reporter Clark Corbin contributed to this article. 

Kevin Richert

About Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on KIVI 6 On Your Side; "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television; and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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