With the 2017 Idaho legislative session due to convene on Monday, Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter and legislative leaders shared their priorities and expectations during a press preview on Friday. Sponsored by the Associated Press, the preview included remarks from Idaho leaders on a variety of issues, including education, health care, transportation and tax relief.
Otter shared his viewpoint on several issues, but deferred specifics on some topics until his State of the State address, which takes place Monday at 1:00 PM. In the legislative panel that followed, Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill (R-Rexburg) and House Speaker Scott Bedke (R-Oakley) represented the majority party, while Senator Michelle Stennett (D-Ketchum) and Representative Mat Erpelding (D-Boise) spoke on behalf of the minority party.
All five elected officials identified education and education funding as priorities for the upcoming legislative session. 2017 is scheduled to be the third year of the Career Ladder salary allocation plan. Otter noted that it is the largest financial commitment encompassed by the five-year rollout, while also saying that follow-though is imperative. “We are starting to realize the promise of the Career Ladder, which was to keep good teachers in Idaho and pay our teachers well,” he said. “It may be a heavy lift, but I will do everything I can to make good on the promise we made to teachers and students.”
Recent stories about Idaho’s teacher evaluation process were also discussed, with Bedke stressing that effective teacher evaluations were a key part of the Career Ladder legislation. “Our teachers expect better of us than this and they should not have to focus on these kind of headlines,” he said. “We need to be competitive with surrounding states on new teacher pay, and our veteran teachers need to be well compensated also.”
Erpelding also weighed in on the teacher evaluation issue, saying “we need an adequate evaluation system that is fair to teachers and doesn’t put us (legislators) in the position of scapegoating teachers.” Bedke indicated that he will not micro-manage the House Education Committee, but expects they will ensure that a good evaluation review plan is put in place during the session.
Other highlights from Friday’s legislative press preview:
- Governor Otter announced an executive order that forms a task force focused on higher education, citing the success of the K-12 task force that led to many of the public education recommendations that are now being implemented. “We have not seen the increases in higher education that we are looking for from our K-12 and ‘go-on” efforts,” he said. Legislators were supportive of the task force and encouraged the inclusion of Career and Technical Education components.
- Otter made it clear that he remains hopeful of landing a position in the administration of President-elect Donald Trump, either as Secretary of Agriculture or in a foreign trade capacity. “If I were to get such an opportunity, I wouldn’t pass it up,” he said.
- Erpelding noted that early childhood education will be a topic that the minority party will pursue. “It is important for recruiting new families to Idaho as we face a ‘silver tsunami’ in our workforce,” he said. Bedke indicated that Republicans are open to discussing early childhood education, but did not commit to prioritizing the concept.
- With Idaho’s economy continuing to thrive, leaders indicated that much of the session will deal with how to direct surplus monies—toward public education, transportation, state savings/reserve accounts, or tax relief.