Ybarra previews new education laws

School administrators across Idaho are adjusting to a host of new education laws taking effect this month.

The vast majority of laws passed by the 2016 Legislature took effect July 1 — the first day of the state’s new fiscal year.

That means that when students, teachers and principals report back to school in August, there will be new policies governing everything from teacher pay to scholarships, literacy rates and counseling.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra previewed a handful of the new laws and programs during an interview Tuesday.

Highlights include:

  • Literacy initiative.

Lawmakers approved a $9.1 million program designed to help struggling readers in grades K-3 improve their literacy rates. Under the program, money will be available to districts for students who score below grade-level benchmarks on the Idaho Reading Indicator test.

Local school leaders will be able to decide how to spend their share of the money, but options include supplemental reading instruction before or after school or during the summer. For students who score at the lowest level, the district may choose to spend its literacy money on optional, all-day kindergarten.

Sherri Ybarra
State Superintendent Sherri Ybarra

“The research states that if you don’t close the gap in reading proficiency in third grade, students are likely to struggle throughout their educational career,” Ybarra said. “That’s why it is so important to focus on the K-3 grade level, intervene early and intervene often.”

During the session, Ybarra advocated for slightly different funding levels and also called for reworking the reading test.

Ybarra plans to follow up this year’s literacy initiative by asking the 2017 Legislature to provide new funding for professional development training to help educators become skilled in reading intervention methods.

She also continues to favor updating or replacing the reading test, and said the state has put out a request for proposals to see what it would take to overhaul the Idaho Reading Indicator.

  • Scholarships.

The Legislature approved increasing funding for the Idaho Opportunity Scholarship by $5 million. Lawmakers also created a new, $1 million program that will allow students who earn college credits while still in high school to earn matching scholarships.

Under House Bill 477, students who rack up 10 college credits in high school would be eligible for a $2,000 scholarship. Students with 20 credits could earn a $4,000 scholarship and students who earn their associate’s degree in high school would be eligible to receive an $8,000 scholarship.

In order to receive the state scholarship, students also must earn a merit-based scholarship from business or industry in an amount at least equal to the state scholarship.

“It opens another door to our students and gives us another opportunity to reach our 60 percent goal for college and career readiness,” Ybarra said.

  • College and career advising.

Under Senate Bill 1290, lawmakers set aside $5 million for school districts for a new college and career advising program.

School district leaders may use their share of funding to hire additional staff, increase staff hours or to provide training.

“College and career advising is completely different than traditional counseling,” Ybarra said.

While traditional counseling programs focus on relationships with students, hardships they may encounter and a wide array of topics including academics, Ybarra said the new $5 million initiative is designed just to focus on mentoring and students’ options to continue their education and start out on a career path.

“Part of that college and career advising piece is so students are not blindsided,” Ybarra said. “(The emphasis is there) so they know early often what it means to be accepted into college.”

Coming Wednesday

Check back with Idaho Education News on Wednesday afternoon for the second part of our interview with Ybarra.

Further reading

The 2016 session: What happened? And what didn’t happen?