K-12 task force narrows focus to five recommendations

MOSCOW — After nearly five months of work and 25 meetings, Gov. Brad Little’s K-12 education task force began narrowing its focus Tuesday.

The full “Our Kids, Idaho’s Future” task force pared a list of 11 recommendations to four — with a fifth on the way later this month.

The recommendations now include:

  • Professional development and access to additional resources tied to better serving students facing social and emotional challenges, including trauma and mental illness.
  • Greater opportunities for optional, all-day kindergarten.
  • Expanding and building out a third rung of the career ladder salary program, paying out $40,000, $50,000 and $60,000.
  • Collapsing state budget earmarks, called line items, and providing more financial flexibility for school districts and charters.

Later this month, the task force will move forward with a fifth recommendation to create an additional accountability system for school superintendents and principals, using growth in Idaho Reading Indicator scores to compare schools with similar demographics.

Task force members consolidated the list after an hours-long debate, dominated by discussion of student social and emotional well-being and early childhood education.

“All-day kindergarten is probably the most effective recommendation we could put forward if we are looking to improve student achievement in literacy,” Idaho PTA President Erin McCandless said. “Without all-day kindergarten, we are behind and we just have so much catching up to do.”

Even though there appears to be general agreement among the task force, there was still considerable friction around recommendations to build out the career ladder and to eliminate budget line items. Although funding could shift from line items into schools’ discretionary budgets, West Ada district Superintendent Mary Ann Ranells said a change that big worries some school leaders. The concern, she said, is state compliance mandates could remain in place, even if schools no longer receive money earmarked to meet state goals.

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Mary Ann Ranells

“The more I visit with my colleagues about this, the more anxiety and fear there is over collapsing the line items,” Ranells said.

The move to narrow the recommendations was important because it shows what priorities the task force will pass on to Little.

“That is where we would like to hone in on,” task force co-chair and State Board of Education President Debbie Critchfield said.

Critchfield, task force co-chair Bill Gilbert and Greg Wilson, Little’s education liaison, worked on trimming the list of 11 recommendations Friday.

“The most useful way to, as you put it, move the ball forward for us as co-chairs who have been at every single meeting and been in every single conversation was to present to the group what we believe are the primary recommendations and then get consensus,” Critchfield told Idaho Education News.

Although Critchfield and Gilbert received the consensus they sought Tuesday, it is important to note that the task force has not taken a final vote to approve the final recommendations. That vote is not expected until Nov. 4.

As for the other proposed recommendations that did not make the priority list, Critchfield said they remain important. Several might go to Little as secondary recommendations, or might go to the State Board or legislators for development.

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