BOISE -- During a joint meeting of the House and Senate Education Committees, there was a pitch that improvements and restoration in education funding be helped by the state collecting an online sales tax.
At the meeting 90-minute meeting, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna outlined his view of the state of education and spoke briefly about his funding idea. Many of his priorities mirror or center around recommendations from the Governor's Education Task Force.
Overall message to legislators: Adopt the task force recommendations
The task force's 20 recommendations range from giving high schoolers more opportunity to earn college credit to more access to technology and wireless for all schools. But to move on all of those recommendations, the keystone, says the task force chairman, is success with the Idaho Core Standards now in place in all Idaho classrooms.
"I would say [the task force] not only supported the adoption or follow through of Common Core, but recognized there was a fair amount of work that needed to be done for successful implementation," Richard Westerberg, Chairman of the Governor's Task Force, said. "That successful implementation is really absolutely imperative if any of the other recommendations we make are going to be successful, and that is a heavy lift."
Common Core, testing controversy surfaces during meeting
While the standards are already in place in Idaho's schools, that keystone recommendation of implementing Common Core Standards remains controversial to some. Pearce, who says he really likes some recommendations, like college credit for high schoolers, says he's still hesitant on Common Core.
"I think in a general way, Common Core has been described as a giant experiment," Sen. Monty Pearce (R-New Plymouth) said. "I am really not interested in subjecting Idaho children to an experiment. we know certain things in education that work, and I think let us stay with those. And not jump too fast and too rapidly. I think we can wait until things are proven and know they really work."
Pearce brought up his concerns to Luna after he presented his prepared remarks. Luna said while it was a good question to bring up, the idea of higher standards is the way to higher quality education and isn't as experimental as some opponents of Common Core have said.
"We're not experimenting with the whole concept of standards. I think what is new is you have states that have taken the lead and chosen to work together," Luna said.
Luna's presentation to lawmakers included photos and videos of how Idaho Core Standards have been implemented, showing the changes in a positive light. He encouraged lawmakers and parents with questions about new standards to go visit classrooms to learn firsthand about the changes.
How to fund recommendations? Luna says online sales tax
As always, agreeing on concepts aren't the only decisions to be made during the session, there's funding the recommendations, which are estimated to cost $350 to $400 million over five to six years. Luna suggested a look at collecting state sales tax on online purchases to help.
"The fact is, we are creating a whole new class of tax exemption if we continue to allow people to shop online without collecting the sales tax that is due," Luna said. "So I encourage the Legislature to consider this at the same time you consider these task force recommendations and the amount of revenue our state needs to fund this path forward to improve education."
Luna said Idaho would have collected around $65 million more in revenue in 2013 if the state had collected sales tax on online purchases.
"Then in my opinion this isn't a tax increase, it's just a sales tax we're not collecting because it's being done through online commerce," Luna said. "More and more of our retail sales where we collect sales tax is being shifted to online where we do not collect sales tax, that creates a funding issue, and if you're looking for more money for education, you have to look at those loopholes."
Luna's 3 steps to start the task force plan
In addition to expressing a specific interest in a tax code change, Luna asked lawmakers to take three steps this session to implement task force recommendations: Fund a $35 million increase in operational funding for schools, which is used for things from supplies to electric bills. Implement a career ladder to pay teachers based on licensure. Finally, pay for high school student to take more classes that would count toward college credit (such as advanced placement, dual-credit and technical courses).
Next week is education week for the state's budget setting committee, so more specifics on funding will be available.