‘You’re part of my team:’ Little addresses school administrators

(UPDATED, 2:40 p.m. Thursday, with Little’s comments to Boise State Public Radio.)

Gov. Brad Little recapped his education talking points Wednesday morning, and made an overture to Idaho school leaders.

“You’re part of my team,” Little said during a kickoff speech at the Idaho Association of School Administrators’ annual leadership conference at the Boise Centre.

Speaking to superintendents and administrators from across the state — and later at a Greater Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce luncheon — Little recapped his first seven months on the job, and address some education challenges ahead:

  • A new law, boosting Idaho’s minimum teaching salary to $40,000 over two years, will help districts and charters recruit and keep teachers. The state will still need to do more — especially for schools in border communities — but the new money also comes with a changing attitude at the Statehouse. “Some of the vitriol about educators is a faint shadow of what it once was,” Little told administrators.
  • Doubling Idaho’s literacy line item doesn’t fully reflect what schools spend to help at-risk readers, Little told IASA members. But the $26 million line item will help schools purchase the tools they need to help kindergarten through third-grade students read at grade level, while making sure students receive the “incredible warm touch” of a qualified teacher.
  • At the chamber luncheon, Little said he was “all-in” on early childhood education, and signaled that he would sign a pre-kindergarten bill into law. But he defended his focus in the $26 million literacy program, which will allow school districts to expand into full-day kindergarten and reduce K-3 class sizes, and alluded to the Legislature historic opposition to pre-K. “All’s I want to do is get done what we can get done.”
  • Little’s Our Kids, Idaho’s Future education task force has been meeting since June, and come fall, the governor wants the group’s recommendations to focus on literacy and college- and career-readiness. “We’ve got ‘em on a pretty abbreviated timeframe,” Little told business leaders.
  • Little reiterated his support for Idaho’s elusive “60 percent goal,” but he reminded administrators to do everything they can for high school graduates who do not go on to college or professional training. “There’s still that 40 percent out there.”

The Chamber of Commerce speech was an annual event, but Wednesday marked the first time in several years that a sitting governor has addressed the IASA conference. Little took no questions after his 13-minute speech. He later fielded several questions at the chamber luncheon, including a question on pre-K.

There was considerable overlap between the two speeches — both in terms of what Little discussed, and what he didn’t discuss.

Little didn’t bring up a pair simmering education topics: the legislative backlash over diversity programs at Boise State University, and the criticism directed at the state’s Public Charter School Commission.

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Little has not weighed in on the push from fellow Republicans to eliminate the Boise State programs. And he didn’t wade into the controversy at the chamber luncheon — attended by nearly 375 business and community leaders, including new Boise State president Marlene Tromp. In an interview after his address to the chamber, Little told Boise State Public Radio’s Jimmy Dawson that he supports the Boise State programs. “If they think there’s a barrier there, real or perceived, if we can say, ‘We want this barrier out of the way where they can get their education,’ I’m all in,” Little told Dawson.

Meanwhile, Little has defended the embattled charter commission, made up partly of gubernatorial appointees, and says the group provides important oversight of Idaho’s growing charter sector.

The IASA conference, attended by more than 450 educators, runs through Friday. State superintendent Sherri Ybarra is slated to appear at the conference Friday morning.

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