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Idaho needs accountability in education

Idaho needs accountability in education

Fred Birnbaum
March 14, 2019

We can all remember when we were kids and asked our parents for something and were turned down. That rejection made us angry at our parents. In the fullness of time, we realize as adults that not yielding to every demand pressed upon us is the natural course of life. As an adult, can anyone imagine saying “yes” to every request?

Apparently, if you’re a legislator this session, such is the mindset you’re supposed to adopt when it comes to education funding bills.

In the fall of 2013, then-Gov. Butch Otter released his Task Force report on education.

Page 7 featured a clear call for accountability: “We recommend the state revamp the accountability structure involving schools. The existing structure that relies on compliance mandates should be replaced with a system that is based on accountability for student outcomes.”

On page 1 the report outlined, “As an overarching goal, the group unanimously adopted the State Board’s goal that 60 percent of Idahoans between the ages of 25 and 34 attain a post-secondary degree or credential by 2020.”

Certainly, we can debate whether that was the correct overarching goal, but that was the main objective.

Here we are, nearly six years later, still waiting for the accountability based on student outcomes – I suggest you stop holding your breath.

We have witnessed during the last several years a huge surge in state funding for K-12 schools. However, though state dollars have soared, there’s been no accompanying accountability for outcomes.

How much has funding increased? In Fiscal Year 2014, lawmakers appropriated just more than $1.3 billion from the General Fund for K-12 public school support. Five years later, for Fiscal Year 2019, that amount increased by $500 million, to $1.8 billion. Today, legislators are asked to appropriate $1.9 billion (or another $109 million) for Fiscal Year 2020. To put that into perspective, enrollments in K-12 public schools have been growing at slightly more than 1 percent per year, during the same period that funding has increased by more than 6 percent per year.

Legislators would be wise to hit the pause button on further spending increases. They should do so without being deemed “anti-education” by the education establishment.

Support for education must not get equated with growing spending at several multiples faster than student growth.

A specific example is the Career Ladder, a state statute for allocating funding to districts for teacher and staff salaries. This year’s House Bill 153 would add $11 million more to the Career Ladder compensation program, which raises the state’s allocation to establish a higher pay floor for new teachers. That sounds like a worthy goal. But, understand, back in 2015 the Legislature passed House Bill 296 to add a $214 million career ladder allocation to the teacher salary structure. The actual cost of the Career Ladder has been $226 million, including the amount for FY20. Now, add to that $226 million an extra $11 million which today’s HB 153 wants to spend.

In total, the state provides more than $1 billion in General Funds to school districts for teachers and pupil services staff per year.

We are told, too many teachers are leaving the profession. And, that Idaho’s teacher attrition rate is about 25 percent higher than the national average.

Were you to run an enterprise and increase investment by more than $600 million over several years, you’d expect results. People would be accountable for outcomes. This raises the question: Why are some political players unwilling to demand results and accountability of the government school system? We ought to praise, not jeer, those who are willing to buck the status quo.

Note: The Post Register first published this column. You can see that post by clicking here

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