BOISE -- The 2013 Idaho Legislative Session is just one day away, and again, education will be a major issue.
With more than 40% turnover in the Statehouse, new Speaker of the House Scott Bedke (R - Oakley) says there will be some inexperience, but also new ideas for old problems. One of those old problems, how to deal with education reform. While lawmakers insist there is consensus on some education issues - like increasing technology in the classroom - there's clearly already disagreement on how, or even if, to proceed.
Reforms passed a couple years ago failed to pass a vote of the people in November.
"It's obvious that we need to have evidence-based recommendations for education," said new Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett (D - Ketchum). "And, it's a real desire by our population that teachers, parents, and education professionals are part of whatever process we do going forward... Keep in mind that the voters have spoken."
But Bedke believes education reform is hung up on that idea Stennett spoke about. "There is a discussion out there. But, there's this over-riding picking and choosing when we use the phrase, 'The voters have spoken, so, just leave it alone.'"
The teachers' union and Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter both advised taking time with crafting any new reforms. Otter created an education task force, and said that 2014 would be the earliest they would suggest new legislation. But Bedke says, reform needs to be dealt with now, because schools need it now. "All but 15 school districts have a red number, and not a black number," he said. "We need to do something immediately in this budget year."
And some education issues need to be tackled immediately, like what to do with an estimated $45 million earmarked for schools as a part of the now repealed laws. Bedke cautions that if nothing is done, that money will flow down into a savings account. He says it may be used to pay for something else, like the repeal of the personal property tax.
House Minority Leader John Rusche (D - Lewiston) says that would create outrage. "Taking money for public schools and using it pay off the personal property tax, which would basically go to the largest companies in the state, I think is something that not only our caucus, but others would find objectionable."
Bedke countered, "But don't keep telling me then that, 'We ought to do nothing, because the voters have spoken' That 'do nothing' encompasses these issues that we're talking about. So, if we're going to pick and choose when we play that card and when we don't, then that has consequences. I'm just trying to point them out to you, and others."
The Speaker also believes Otter's education task force shouldn't be given all the responsibility and power to fix education issues in the state. He says there are perfectly good education committees in the house and senate right now.