The new K-12 task force: similar, but not identical

A familiar tune. But not a note-for-note repeat.

Gov. Brad Little looks over his notes before the start of Monday’s task force meeting.

As Gov. Brad Little’s K-12 task force met for the first time Monday morning, the group reviewed the work of its predecessor: then-Gov. Butch Otter’s task force. But a lot has changed since 2013 — in Idaho schools, and in Idaho politics.

While Little said the 2013 task force provides “a remarkable model,” he also asked his 26-member group to think in terms of recalibration. And even during Monday’s half-day organizational meeting, this remake began to take shape.

Here’s what’s different, and what’s similar.

Two big priorities …. Little wants his group, “Our Kids, Idaho’s Future,” to emphasize two themes: literacy and college and career readiness.

This is a slight departure from the Otter task force, which was asked to work through the lens of Idaho’s “60 percent goal” — the drive to convince more of Idaho’s 25- to 34-year-olds to obtain a college degree or professional certificate. (Idaho’s postsecondary completion rate remains mired at 42 percent, far from the 60 percent threshold.)

Little’s priorities are neither a big surprise nor a quantum shift. Little convinced the 2019 Legislature to put $26.3 million into literacy, a $13 million increase that was one of his big first-year legislative goals. And “college and career readiness” isn’t far removed from the 60 percent goal, which Little has embraced for years.

But at least a couple of task force members wonder how the state will measure college and career readiness. “We’ve not defined this as well as we should,” said West Ada School District Superintendent Mary Ann Ranells, one of three Little task force members who also served on the 2013 task force.

… but fewer actual goals. The sweeping 2013 task force report included 20 recommendations. Some have had a profound effect on education policy: the teacher salary career ladder; the shift toward mastery-based learning; the advanced opportunities program that allows high school students to get a jumpstart on college.

Greg Wilson, Little’s senior policy adviser on education, urged this committee to think smaller. Wilson said his boss wants no more than five or six recommendations, “recognizing that this is a different point in time.”

If this group is to settle on only a handful of recommendations, that means it will probably have some winnowing to do. The task force will soon break into four subcommittees that will examine four big subject areas: K-12 budgeting; the teacher pipeline; rural and underserved schools and school safety and facilities.

Debbie Critchfield — the president of the State Board of Education and the task force’s co-chair — urged group members and subcommittees to hang onto their notes. Some good ideas might not make the cut this fall, but could come back later.

A new year, a new climate. On several occasions, co-chair Bill Gilbert reminded the task force that 2019 is not 2013. And that’s a good thing. Six years ago, after voters tossed out state superintendent Tom Luna’s education overhaul laws, getting education leaders to the same table was a revolutionary idea.

This time, he said, the job is evolutionary in nature.

“We have a strong record of working together over the past five years,” said Gilbert, the co-founder and managing director of Caprock, a Boise-based investment group.

The budgetary climate has changed as well. In 2013, Idaho schools were reeling from unprecedented budget cuts. Since then, Idaho has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into the first task force’s recommendations.

House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding urged the task force not to make snap decisions on return on investment. The state has funded some of these 2013 initiatives for only a year or two, and the payoff might only come years down the road, said Erpelding, D-Boise.

A tight timetable. It took the 2013 task force nearly eight months to write up its recommendations. Little wants his group to move more quickly. The first subcommittee meeting is scheduled for next week. Committee recommendations are due Oct. 1, and the group’s final meeting is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 4.

“We have a lot to do,” Gilbert said. “We have a relatively short period to do that in.”

But a tight deadline has its advantages, he said. It forces a focus.

More reading: Click here to read a PowerPoint presentation that spells out the task force’s goals, meeting schedule and subcommittee makeup.

Listen in: On the latest “Extra Credit” podcast, Kevin Richert interviews Little education adviser Greg Wilson about the task force and other education topics.

Kevin Richert

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 "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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