Statehouse roundup, 3.1.22: New standards legislation emerges

The Statehouse standards debate could resume in March.

The House Education Committee introduced a pair of proposals to get rid of the state’s existing math, English language arts and science standards, and replace them with new standards.

The committee’s Tuesday morning votes set the stage for a full hearing on the issue — and Chairman Lance Clow’s push to adopt the new standards.

Clow, R-Twin Falls, has been frustrated for months over the standards impasse. The new standards have been in the works for two years, but the State Board of Education has not adopted them.

Clow’s proposals would accomplish two things:

The first, a bill, would put the new standards on the books.

The second, a legislative resolution, would dump the existing, and controversial, standards: math and English language arts standards aligned with the national Common Core movement, and science standards that have drawn the ire of some conservative lawmakers, because of their references to issues such as climate change.

The changes would go into effect on July 1. The timing is important, Clow said, in order to make sure the state keeps some standards on the books while making the transition to new standards.

The orchestrated effort appears to be a response to a recent attorney general’s opinion, which said the state could lose federal education funding if it repealed standards without adopting new standards.

During a brief discussion Tuesday, Clow said the feds have given the states the assurance that they can replace their standards, as long as they keep their standardized tests in place.

“This has been done by many states in the past,” he said.

The state’s main assessment tool, the Idaho Standards Achievement Test, would stay intact during the transition, Clow said. But the state would have to rework the ISAT to align with the new standards.

Academic standards represent a set of academic guideposts: concepts students are expected to master as they navigate the K-12 system. It’s still up to local school districts to adopt curriculum and choose textbooks to align to the standards. But while those decisions are made locally, Idaho’s standards have been a hot-button topic at the Statehouse for several years.

Little signs Empowering Parents Grants bill

The $50 million Empowering Parents Grants program is now on the books.

Gov. Brad Little signed the program bill Tuesday during a ceremony at Caldwell’s Sacajawea Elementary School.

One of Little’s education priorities for 2022, the bill offers a sequel to the 2020 Strong Families, Strong Students grant program. As with its predecessor, the new program will use $50 million of federal coronavirus aid to provide grants to offset families’ education costs, such as computers, internet access or curricular materials.

Grants will max out at $1,000 per student or $3,000 per household. They will be awarded based on income, starting with families making less than $60,000 per year.

The bill signed Tuesday creates the grant program. Lawmakers still will have to pass a spending bill freeing up the $50 million of federal funding.

WWAMI proposals surface

House Majority Leader Mike Moyle wants to see Idaho’s medical school partnership expand. But he also wants to see more medical school graduates return to Idaho.

Moyle, R-Star, presented two proposals to House Education Tuesday.

The first is a nonbinding resolution urging the State Board of Education to seek additional spots in the “WWAMI” program — which provides University of Washington medical school seats for students from Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. Currently, Idaho has 40 seats in the program.

The second is binding legislation, which would require Idaho’s WWAMI students to sign a contract with the state, pledging to practice medicine in Idaho for at least four years after their graduation. If they don’t, graduates would have to pay back the state money that subsidized their WWAMI education.

The bill is modeled after similar legislation in Alaska, Montana and Wyoming, and Moyle said it is not an attempt to undermine WWAMI’s programs.

“It’s an effort to bring those students back to Idaho … to help Idahoans,” he said.

This is a familiar debate. In April, the House narrowly passed a medical education budget that earmarked $6.9 million for WWAMI. Moyle debated against that budget, lamenting the fact that Idaho was subsidizing an education for students who didn’t come back to Idaho.

House Education introduced both proposals Tuesday, meaning they could come back for a full hearing.

Kindergarten age change emerges

Currently, students can’t enroll in kindergarten unless they’re five years old by the time school starts in September.

House Education introduced a bill that would allow kids to start kindergarten a year earlier if they turn five by Dec. 31 of that school year. Kids could only start early if their parents and the school district determine that they’re “school-ready.”

Reps. Gary Marshall, R-Idaho Falls and Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, were among the minority who opposed the bill on a voice vote. Both said they’re concerned that four-year-olds aren’t ready for kindergarten — especially full-day kindergarten, which the Legislature is considering funding.

The bill can now receive a full hearing.

Idaho Education News reporter Blake Jones contributed to this report. 

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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