by Nishant Mohan
Idaho Public Radio
State Capitol Bureau
Education issues have remained at the forefront of the Idaho State Legislature in recent days. Here’s a rundown of the issues.
Idaho Governor Butch Otter announced that a public-private partnership would lead to the building of Idaho’s first four year medical school. The school will be built in Meridian on property leased from Idaho State University. Earlier, JFAC approved five more Idaho seats in the WWAMI program, the medical education program at the University of Idaho run in partnership with the University of Washington medical school.
(Idaho Governor Butch Otter makes the medical school announcement. Nishant Mohan photo)
The Senate Education Committee voted 7-2 Thursday in favor of a bill that would establish a start-up account to convert Eastern Idaho Technical College to a community college.
“Anytime we can work to make education more affordable and allow people to avail themselves of opportunities, I think that’s a good idea,” said Rep. Neil Anderson of the possibility of his area having access to a community college closer to home.
Rep. Julie VanOrden, who sits on the House Education Committee, also spoke favorably of the possibility of the school getting an upgrade, saying it could provide more people from her area the opportunity to have the experience she did at the College of Southern Idaho.
“I think it will be very beneficial,” she said. “The people as well as the business have asked for it. Businesses need educated employees.”
VanOrden also said the college could particularly help the Hispanic population, who she said are already at a disadvantage due to a language barrier and economic status.
“The demographics of higher education do not reflect the demographics of our community in Idaho,” she said.
A public school security bill passed the House Education Committee Friday, and will move to the floor.
The bill, by Rep. Wendy Horman, would create an Office of School Safety and Security and a Safety and Security Advisory Board.
Marsing School District Superintendent Norm Stewart, who testified in favor of the bill, said his community does not have its own law enforcement and instead contracts with the Owyhee County Sheriff’s Department.
Stewart said the Department is spread thin, with only twelve full-time officers and two part-time officers to cover 7,697 square miles. He said they perform their job to the best of their abilities but that the job is an enormous undertaking.
“My first year as superintendent, we had an intruder who was being chased by law enforcement. He was able to find a door that didn’t close properly and was in the building for about two minutes before he left and was apprehended. It brought even more attention to the fact that even though we have our safety protocols, there’s still a lot of room for improvement.”
Public School Funding
Horman has been active on the education front in other areas this week, presenting a House concurrent resolution to the Senate Education Committee asking that a committee be appointed to study the public school funding formula.
“It became apparent that it was probably time to take an overall, big-picture look at a formula that was built in 1994, before charter schools and online education were there,” said Horman, who sits on the Joint Finance- Appropriations Committee, which sets the annual budget. “Our current formula does not recognize that the cost of a playground supervisor and a network administrator are different.”
Idaho’s student populations have changed, with more English Language Learners and special education students, and learning environments have changed as well, with large amounts of schooling available to students online, especially in rural areas.
“Those changes have impacted our budget,” Horman said. “We can’t fit it on an 8 ½ by 11 sheet of paper anymore.”
She said the committee likely should consist of the Superintendent, another State Board member and legislators.
“We know we cannot solve this problem without the expertise of our teachers and administrators,” Horman said. “It will need to be inclusive.”
Margie Gonzalez, executive director of the Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs, told lawmakers that Hispanics, “fastest growing population of students in Idaho, have significant achievement gap.”
(Margie Gonzalez of the Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs updates lawmakers. Nishant Mohan photo)
Rural Education Centers
Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra’s Rural Education Centers plan has been absent from education committee discussions.
Ybarra’s plan, which is the most striking difference between her budget request for public education and Gov. Otter’s proposal, would create staffing resources such as reading coaches or nurses that could be shared between schools that would pay only for what they need. Ybarra requested $300,000 for a pilot program.
While speaking in front of the budget committee Feb 16, Rep. Reed DeMordaunt alluded to draft legislation which he said lacked detail, but no such legislation has surfaced.
Posted February 28, 2016