Three hours of Boise speakers end sessions

Round Seven was full of heavy hitters and more Common Core critics.

The governor’s education reform task force held its final listening session in Boise Thursday night. Members of the task force heard from the 37 speakers over the course of nearly three hours. An audience of about 200 people nearly filled the Statehouse’s Lincoln Auditorium, although most people had left before the session’s conclusion.

Much of the testimony was similar to that delivered in the previous six sessions — school funding, teacher pay, merit pay, special education, early childhood education and Common Core state standards.

The biggest difference in Boise was the long list of big-name eduction stakeholders who testified:

  • Mike Ferguson, a former state economist, who is now director of the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy.
  • Ann Farris, a director with the Boise School District.
  • Steve Smylie, former lawmaker and educator.
  • Nancy Gregory, Boise School District trustee.
  • Don Keller, principal of Sage International School in Boise.
  • Colleen Fellows, board member with Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children.
  • LeAnn Simmons, director for Idaho Voices for Children.
  • David Roberts, principal of East Junior High in Boise.
  • Sue Lovelace, founder of Step Ahead Idaho.
  • Douglas Jones, former Idaho lawmaker and House Education Committee member.

“This isn’t some hidden mystery, we already know what will improve schools. It’s simply a matter of doing it,” Smylie said. “It’s going to cost money. We can’t improve schools unless we are willing to pay for it.”

Boise 2
Susan Frickey testified against Common Core State Standards.

Smylie, a lifelong educator who now teaches at Boise State University, was applauded when he said students aren’t dropping out of college because they are “stupid.” They are leaving because it’s too expensive, he said.

Farris also talked about money, but focused on flexibility in spending so “funds can be tailored to fit each district’s needs.” She also said that accountability should still be an important part of the equation but that, too, is “best determined locally.”

Ferguson cited the Idaho Constitution’s requirement to fund a thorough public education system, and told the audience that this requires more than just “bare bones” funding.

Simmons was one of several speakers who emphasized the importance of early education, and identifying intervention needs as early as possible.

“Where it all begins is strong skill sets around reading — districts need to have accurate and effective diagnosis for those kids who aren’t reading well,” Simmons said. “States and districts need to improve on how they work with families and value the input of families.”

Some speakers asked that Idaho require all-day kindergarten.

“Quality early childhood education must be a component of reform,” said Fellows. “Three of four children entering kindergarten are unprepared and 44 percent do not perform at grade level.”

A handful of parents hoped that lawmakers will review funding and programs in special education, specifically for autism. Another parent pointed out that the task force should set a goal of “increasing parent input.”

The most popular topic of the night was the criticism of Common Core state standards. At least 15 spoke against the standards, which will be implemented this fall in all Idaho schools.

Susan Frickey said that Idaho must consider the intended and unintended consequences of Common Core, including the “very heavy footprint” of the federal government.

Who was there

Half of the 31 task force members were in attendance:

Linda Clark, Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking, Mary Huff, Penni Cyr, Cindy Wilson, Lori Boeckel, Ann Ritter, Karen Echeverria, Rod Lewis, Rob Winslow, Cheryl Charlton, Bob Lokken, Roger Brown, Richard Westerberg and Mike Lanza.

Also attending were state legislators Sen. Steven Thayn and Reps. John Gannon and Sue Chew.

What’s next

The task force will meet again in May to review what was documented from the seven listening sessions and other ideas shared by email. The next meeting will not be May 3, as was originally planned, because of scheduling conflicts. This meeting will likely be held May 10 or May 17, said task force Chairman Richard Westerberg, a State Board of Education member. will continue to closely follow the task force, including more coverage on Friday.

Learning more or have your say

Jennifer Swindell

Jennifer Swindell

Managing editor and CEO Jennifer Swindell founded Idaho Education News in 2013. She has led the online news platform as it has grown in readership and engagement every year, reaching over one million pageviews in 2019. Jennifer has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. She also has served as a public information officer for Idaho schools and as a communication director at Boise State University. She can be reached at [email protected].

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