The House Education Committee today advanced two bills that would make major shifts in education. It’s likely that at least one and hopefully both will get closer scrutiny as they move through the Legislature.
The panel held a print hearing for proposed legislation to lift the cap on charter schools in Idaho. Currently, there can be six new charter schools in the state each year, with no more than one per year per school district. A similar bill was killed on the House floor on the next-to-last day of the session last year when a lobbyist passed out leftover yellow fleece “National School Choice Week” scarves shortly before the vote. The House Ways & Means Committee resurrected and passed another bill the very next day, but it went no further since the Legislature finished its business for the year.
Rep. Bob Nonini (R-Coeur d’Alene), sponsor of this year’s bill, said supporters wanted to get an earlier start on the issue this year. The Idaho Education Association supports effective charter schools and helped write Idaho’s charter school legislation. However, we oppose lifting the cap on charters because it would spread the already-meager education budget even thinner. Today’s print hearing means there will be a full hearing on the bill; watch the Hotline for more details.
The committee also heard testimony and plenty of questions today on H426, a so-called “8-in-6” plan proposed by Rep. Steve Thayn (R-Emmett). The name refers to how a student could complete eight years of schooling – seventh grade through the second year of college – in just six years.
Thayn’s bill would ask the state to pay a portion of the total cost for up to eight extra classes – mostly delivered online, though traditional summer school classes would also qualify – for junior- and senior-high students to earn up to two years of college credit or a professional-technical degree while in high school. The state would pay $225 for each “overload” or summer class for students in the program, and the student would be responsible for the remainder of the cost. The plan would save families money on college tuition – definitely a good goal – but it but it is unclear where the funding would come from.
Thayn’s daughter testified on behalf of the bill, noting that she is on her 10th online class while attending Emmett High School and could qualify to graduate a year early. However, both she and her father noted that for students to succeed online, they need a strong support system beyond the online class teacher; Carly Thayn said she used friends and her older brother, a “math whiz” engineering student, to survive her online math class because the online teacher was not available.
Thayn’s bill would limit the “8-in-6” program to just 10 percent of students at any grade level 7 through 12, and districts would have to “make reasonable efforts to ensure that any student who considers participating in the program has the aptitude and capabilities to succeed in the program.” This limitation – and Carly Thayn’s statement about the AWOL online teacher – raises interesting questions about Idaho’s new online course mandates and whether online classes are the right fit for all students.
Start over? John Wilson, the former executive director of the National Education Association, is a big fan of digital learning. “A teacher in today's classroom is empowered by technology, and technology works for students when good teachers use it,” he wrote last week on his blog. However, he added, “Politicians cannot pit teachers against technology, especially in funding priorities. Yes, I am talking about Idaho. That state's elected leaders would do us all a favor by starting over and doing it right.” And that is what can happen if Idaho voters overturn Proposition 3 this fall.