Trustees to consider state-funded pre-K programs

Updated Nov. 15 at 7:30 a.m. with clarification that the Boise School District’s resolution for funding flexibility for pre-kindergarten programs includes services for 4-year-olds. 

BOISE — Idaho school trustees plan to vote on using tax dollars to fund school-readiness programs for 4-year-olds.

It’s one of several issues they plan to consider during this year’s Idaho School Boards Association convention at the Boise Centre.

The annual three-day conference kicks off Wednesday and features training and networking opportunities for school board members. It ends with an open caucus of trustees from across Idaho that will either accept or reject a series of resolutions aimed at shaping the ISBA’s top priorities ahead of the 2019 legislative session.

Here are this year’s resolutions:

Funding flexibility for kindergarten prep programs. The Boise School District wants the Legislature to change a law that prevents districts and charter schools from using state funds to support pre-kindergarten preparation programs.

The current resolution does not specify what age group the programs would serve. However, Boise trustee Beth Oppenheimer told Idaho Education News that the resolution would reduce the state’s approved school-starting age from 5 years old to 4 years old.

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Oppenheimer said she’s working with fellow school board members and the ISBA to clarify the age change ahead of Friday’s caucus.

Amending the law would “allow flexibility for local districts and charters schools to use state dollars as they see appropriate in supporting children entering kindergarten,” the resolution reads.

Boise trustees cite U.S. Census Bureau data showing that 69 percent of the state’s 3- and 4-year-olds are not enrolled in an early childhood education program. They say this gap hinders school readiness, with “49 percent of ldaho’s children enter(ing) kindergarten with below grade-level reading skills.”

The resolution would neither amend the age threshold for children enrolling in either kindergarten or first grade, nor require local districts or charters to establish readiness programs.

The ISBA’s executive board supports the resolution.

Funding for all-day kindergarten. Also aimed at improving performance among young learners, state funding for all-day kindergarten isn’t a new idea in Idaho. Trustees in the West Bonner County and Genesee districts have a resolution to make it happen.

Idaho now provides funding for half-day kindergarten. Trustees cite three reasons to make it enough for full-day services:

  • Research showing an increase in the number of full-day kindergarten programs improves “various social, economic, and educational factors.”
  • An ldaho Association for the Education of Young Children survey that found 75 percent of Idahoans polled were either “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to send their children to public preschool.
  • Eighty-four traditional and charter schools in Idaho already offer full-day kindergarten to students — without state funding for a full time teacher.

Trustees say the change would “increase financial stability” for these schools and decrease the reliance on local funding through supplemental levies or other discretionary dollars.

The ISBA’s executive board does not support this proposal and will provide details for why at the conference.

Strategic plans and reporting requirements. The Boise School District drafted a resolution to amend the the state’s continuous improvement plan law and revert to a strategic plan.

Boise Superintendent Don Coberly addressed the resolution at a “red tape” committee meeting in Boise last month. The 17-member committee has focused on ways to cut down on compliance-based reporting requirements, with some arguing that changing the law would free up administrators and education officials to focus on academics and learning.

Boise’s resolution would still require data-driven strategic plans, Coberly said, but it would remove 14 different “student readiness metrics” now required by law.

Coberly said many districts are forced to develop two strategic plans: one to guide district decisions, and a second to satisfy state reporting requirements.

“There is increasing concern about the amount of paperwork in general, whether it’s evaluations or strategic plans or literacy plans,” Coberly told Idaho Education News in October. “It has just become all-consuming.”

Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls sponsored the original law. She did not respond to a request for comment about the resolution.

The ISBA’s executive board supports the resolution.

Other resolutions for this year’s conference: 

  • Providing salary-based apportionment for classified schools staffers.
  • Reducing the state’s two-thirds supermajority vote requirement for passing school bond issues.
  • Reducing the state’s two-thirds majority requirement for school boards to enter into executive sessions.
  • Opposing public funds from being diverted to private schools.
  • Using sales tax revenue from new construction to supplement the costs of school bond issues.
  • Amending state law to establish a fixed flat rate of allowable transportation expenses reimbursable to some districts.
  • Providing recourse for charter schools whose chartering entities do not carry out the charter renewal process steps by state-imposed deadlines.
  • Allowing officers to place those threatening violence on schools grounds in custody.
  • Allowing additional flexibility in making teacher assignments outside an educator’s endorsement area.

Click here for the ISBA’s convention website.

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