Statehouse roundup, 3.4.20: Lawmakers work on a standards ‘wish list’

After weeks of deliberating — and disagreeing — about what to do with Idaho’s academic standards, lawmakers seem to be in agreement on one key point.

It’s time for something new.

“We, the undersigned, believe it is time to replace the Idaho Content Standards sometimes referred to as ‘Common Core Standards,’” lawmakers said in a draft letter that could ultimately go to Gov. Brad Little, state superintendent Sherri Ybarra and the State Board of Education.

The process is still in flux. But the letter signals some common ground between the House and Senate education committees on the thorny issue of academic standards. And it foreshadows a standards review that could take a couple of years.

The Senate Education Committee reviewed the three-page letter Wednesday afternoon. In a unanimous vote, senators authorized Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, and Vice Chairman Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, to sign the letter on the committee’s behalf.

The House Education Committee will take up the letter Thursday morning.

According to a draft of the letter — made available to reporters and lobbyists after Wednesday’s committee meeting — lawmakers say they want to avoid wasting “time, effort and manpower” on an unpalatable set of new standards. “Our concern is that any new standards developed by the State Board of Education and the State Department of Education may not be accepted by parents, educators, administrators, the public, and therefore the Legislature.”

The letter then goes on to spell out a laundry list of recommendations.

  • In English language arts, lawmakers want a “better balance between fiction and non-fiction reading materials, emphasizing value-rich, historically important and uplifting literature (particularly American and English literature).”
  • In math, lawmakers want the basics balanced against real-life problem-solving “to ensure more connections to science, business and other related disciplines.”
  • In science — standards which are not a part of Common Core, but have been debated at the Statehouse for four of the past five sessions — lawmakers urge state educators to “provide balance in standards that have been politicized.” For example, lawmakers want standards to discuss “positive and negative aspects” of energy sources.

Senate Education signed onto the letter unanimously, but only after parsing the details. Sen. Jim Woodward, R-Sagle, said he wasn’t completely comfortable with the call to replace the Common Core standards, saying he would have preferred the verb “revisit.” Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, said the letter seemed “heavy-handed” at first glance.

Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, said the goal was to simply jumpstart a collaborative rewrite. “I don’t think it’s restrictive in any way.”

The letter has brought together House and Senate education committee members, who haven’t always agreed on standards. House Education voted on Feb. 5 to repeal the math, English and science standards; a week later, Senate Education overrode the House, voting to keep the standards in place pending a review.

But at this point, the House and Senate seem to be in agreement on what to do next.

House Education members have been working on the draft letter, and are on board, said committee vice chair Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth. In the next couple of days, Kerby said, House Education will take up another piece of the puzzle — a resolution to create a legislative interim committee to study the academic standards.

The Senate approved that resolution in February. On Wednesday, Mortimer said the committee is essential to breaking a nine-year political deadlock over standards.

Mosier meets Ehardt

In other action Wednesday, Team USA transgender athlete Chris Mosier attended House Education’s meeting the morning after participating in a Statehouse rally.

Chris Mosier

Mosier, a Nike-sponsored athlete competing in the duathlon, did not testify in the meeting but he was able to meet Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls.

The Chicago-based Mosier was in Boise to speak out against House Bill 500, Ehardt’s bill to ban transgender girls and women from participating in women’s sports. During Tuesday’s rally, Mosier called House Bill 500 “the worst in the country attacking transgender student athletes.”

Mosier and Ehardt spoke briefly after the meeting adjourned.

Later Wednesday morning, Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, introduced Mosier from the Senate floor, where he received a round of applause from senators.

HB 500 passed the House last week, but the Senate has not taken it up.

Grandfather rights for endorsements

Working with a lighter agenda now that the committee is slowing down, House Education advanced a bill designed to provide “grandfather” rights for teaching endorsements.

Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, said Senate Bill 1304, is intended to recognize the training and education attained by teachers.

Under the bill, individuals who held a specific endorsement recognized by the state prior to July 1, will continue to be recognized as holding that endorsement if the state no longer issues or recognizes that endorsement.

Den Hartog said the bill would benefit Idaho teachers who stepped out of the workforce long ago and would like to reenter the profession. In some cases, the state may no longer recognize the specific endorsement the teacher held years ago, with an example being the early-childhood endorsement that has been replaced with a K-8 general endorsement or the blended early-childhood endorsement.

“I’m a strong supporter of this legislation,” said Rep. Gary Marshall, R-Idaho Falls. “As an administrator, it would be nice to see sort of a historical record of where the teacher has been and what they’ve been certified to do.”

House Education advanced the bill via a voice vote with Rep. Steve Berch, D-Boise, voting against it.

SB 1304 heads next to the House floor with a recommendation it passes. It passed the Senate 34-0 on Feb. 20.

A teacher certification dustup

In a brief floor dustup Wednesday morning, a House Education Committee member tried to slow down the process on a teacher certification bill.

Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City, tried to convince the House to return House Bill 599 to committee for a full public hearing. The committee voted to introduce the bill and send it directly to the House floor for the vote — an unconventional, but not unprecedented, process.

McCrostie said he was not necessarily opposed to the bill, which would set up a process for graduates from a nonpublic teacher preparation program to earn a teaching certificate. “The bill itself may have merit.”

Teacher certification has been a recurring issue during the 2020 session. House Education rejected teacher certification rules earlier this session, but the Senate Education Committee put the rules back into effect.

“The (certification) topic had been heavily debated during the rules process,” said House Education Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, urging colleagues to reject McCrostie’s motion.

Clow prevailed, on nearly a party-line vote. The motion failed on a 14-54 vote, with Boise Republican Megan Kiska joining Democrats in support.

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