Idaho Democrats Want Education Improvement Recommendations Enshrined In Law

Dec 4, 2013

Credit Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

Democrats in Idaho’s Legislature unveiled four bills Wednesday they plan to introduce in the 2014 session that starts in January. The bills would implement the recommendations of the state’s education improvement task force.

This group of education stakeholders released 20 recommendations in August. They include restructuring how teachers are paid and licensed, restoring money cut during the recession, and making sure kids master subjects before they advance.

They’ve been widely endorsed. But there hasn’t been universal agreement on how and when they should be implemented.

The Democrats' bills are short on those kinds of details. But legislation would make it law that all the recommendations be carried out. Assistant House Minority Leader Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, says his party thought the bills were necessary because of capitol-building scuttlebutt. Burgoyne says the talk in the halls was that some recommendations wouldn’t be addressed for years.

“We were concerned that the task force recommendations not end up on a shelf as a lot of interim committee and task force recommendations do,” Burgoyne says.

Bipartisan Support

The Democrats have an unexpected ally in schools’ superintendent Tom Luna. They’ve often clashed with the Republican schools chief, especially over his Students Come First education laws that voters repealed in 2012. But Luna’s spokesperson says he now supports using the power of the Legislature to make sure all the recommendations become reality.

Idaho Education Association president Penni Cyr sent an email statement, which reads in part:

“We applaud the Democrats for proposing the four pieces of legislation. We know there is much work that needs to take place to be sure that each of the recommendations is fully implemented. The recommendations put Idaho on a path to reinvesting in and recommitting to our students and our schools. Over the months ahead, a great deal of work will need to be done to put meat on the bones of the recommendations.” – Penni Cyr, IEA

Broad Support Could Be Lacking

Idaho’s State Board of Education has a central role in the Democrats’ legislation. The proposed bills give the State Board broad authority to work out the implementation details.

While the Democrats consulted with Gov. C. L. “Butch” Otter and Superintendent Luna in drafting the bills, they did not consult the board. The board won’t comment on the bills, but a spokesperson says many of the recommendations don’t require legislation because the board already has authority to implement them.

Gov. Otter endorses all 20 task force recommendations, but he won’t comment on these bills or on the idea of having the Legislature mandate their implementation. A spokesman says Otter will reveal how and when he thinks the education changes should be put into action during the State of the State address in January.

Copyright 2013 Boise State Public Radio