Politics has its own March Madness 

March Madness isn’t restricted to basketball–clearly not in an election year..

Just over a week ago Democrats had six strong contenders for

president–four men and two women, four old and two young, four moderate and two progressive.

In a matter of days, four contenders dropped out. Now, many Democrats are trying to work up enthusiasm for Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders, even as they mourn what ‘might have been’ with Pete or Amy or Michael or Elizabeth.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus continues to spread, particularly in western Washington. Fortunately, Congress has rushed through fundin

g which includes $4 million for Idaho programs. Bring on the experts–please.  

 And the legislature is on a roller coaster going from wise to foolish and back again.

Wise. Tuesday House Democrats joined with moderate Republicans to defeat a bill which would have limited who may be charged with a misdemeanor for failing to report child abuse.

Where does such a bill come from? Has anyone complained that too many people are being charged?

Foolish. But Democrats couldn’t stop the House from passing HB

 525 blocking all state agencies from funding any services from Planned Parenthood–cancer tests, birth control, counselling, whatever. (Three gutsy Republicans did vote against the bill._  

Wise. Then Thursday the House passed a bill sponsored by Ilana Ruble requiring landlords to give tenants at least 30 days notice before raising the rent or not renewing a lease.

Foolish. The House defeated a second bill that would have required landlords to give tenants a list of charges made against their security deposit. Apparently, repairmen of all stripes may itemize for over half a dozen customers a day, but such transparency is too onerous for landlords.

And the House Education Committee came up with a double whammy.  Firs

t, it sent a letter to the Department of Education detailing the changes they want in curriculum standards, e.g. more ‘uplifting’ literature and more pros about fossil fuel consumption. I don’t think they’ll be happy until standards of the 1950s are revived.

Worse, the committee submitted–and the House passed– a bill to allow nonpublic colleges and universities to offer minimal teacher preparation programs. HB599 would force the Department of Education to grant teaching certifications to graduates of any nonpublic education program requiring a bachelor’s degree and ‘content and pedagogical’ training, whatever that entails.

Former legislatures have passed bills allowing charter schools to use non-certified teachers and college graduates with only six-weeks as a teacher’s aid to be treated as the equivalent of educators with master’s degr
ees. Now HB 599 will allow Ricks College to graduate certified teachers even if its program doesn’t measure up to that required of Boise State. (I don’t think NNU or the C of I have asked for changes.)
And the madness isn’t over.
 Next week the Senate will hold hearings on HB 487 which would require a ‘negotiated rulemaking process’ to set penalties for misuse of pesticides and ‘chemigation.’ Who is to negotiate is unclear, but the Marsing Agricultural Labor Sponsoring Committee sounds certain that workers aren’t being included.

“If this bill passes, we are shouting to our work force that we do not care about them as human beings.  We must do everything possible to make sure Idaho agriculture is safe for everyone involved.”

Now that we’re using faster-acting chemicals than ever, we’ll regulate them less?


 This is the final week of filing for legislative seats. By Saturday every incumbent will know if he or she will be challenged from the right or the left–and the pace of legislative voting will speed up.

Education: A Master Mystery for Idaho Teachers

by Levi Cavener

If you are a teacher who feels a little lost about the Master Teacher Premium–which is now also apparently being referred to as the Master Educator Premium–don’t feel bad. The legislature is equally lost in the program of their own making.

A survivor of the shipwrecked tiered licensure, the master teacher premium was hatched as a way to get some educators closer to the original sixty thousand salary goal line after the legislature capped the career ladder salary allocation short at just fifty thousand. When implemented in 2019, qualifying teachers will receive an additional four thousand per year for three years.

Some problems: the rubric which will be used to assess which teachers are Jedi quality and which are still padawans has not been developed. Teachers will be required to submit a portfolio of artifacts covering at least three of the previous five school years, but the evaluation tool and process to evaluate selected evidence to determine the superhero variety of teachers from their sidekick colleagues has not yet been determined.

Because, as teachers know, best practice is to assign work to students by only giving them a vague idea about what is expected. Make sure to avoid generating a rubric prior to giving the assignment. When asked by students for an assessment tool that is little more specific, best practice is to shrug and let students know a rubric should be available in the next year or two. Hopefully. Foolproof pedagogy!

Keep in mind that the legislature really has no idea this test of teacher awesomeness is going to cost the state. Sen Thayn went so far as to call the plan a “house of straw” that has a shaky financial foundation at best.

Idaho Ed News reported the State Dept. of Education estimate that only a shockingly small ten percent of Idaho teachers will apply. Keep in mind that doesn’t mean the SDE believes ten percent of Idaho teachers will be awarded the distinction, only that ten percent will submit the paperwork.

Does that estimate mean that Idaho’s State Department of Education believes that, at best, only one in ten of Idaho educators are masters in their craft?

Sen. Thayn’s critique is legitimate. Suppose that fifty percent of Idaho teachers meet the eligibility criteria. Further suppose that only half of those eligible teachers apply. That leaves 25% of Idaho’s teachers submitting applications.

That plausible scenario would result in a whopping 250% applicant increase in comparison to the SDE’s projection. Is the legislature ready to put its money where its mouth is, particularly if awardee numbers come in significantly over the current conservative projection?

Will the legislation be tweaked to include a quota? You know, because the state only has so much money–err space–for awesome teachers?

Also consider the cost of the folks actually performing the evaluation of the portfolios as well. What criteria will be used in determine who is fit to judge teacher awesomeness? It is doubtful qualified evaluators will work for free

The larger the laundry list of demands to be included in the portfolio means the larger the workload–and elevated cost–of assessing padawans from their Jedi colleagues. And what happens when a teacher doesn’t receive their black belt? What will be their recourse? A suit in our courts that further taxes the state?

Don’t stress though teachers. None of us are Jedi masters yet. Who knows what will happen between now and 2019 when the awards are delivered. As Master Yoda tells us, “patience you must have.”

Levi B Cavener is a special education teacher in Caldwell, Idaho. He blogs at IdahosPromise.Org

Legislature: Gov. Otter’s State of the State

by Judy Ferro


For the first 30 minutes of Gov. Butch Otter’s State of the State Address, he sounded like a pretty good Democrat.

Urging that we “do the right thing for the next generation,” Otter supported funding for public school programs ranging from teacher pay to classroom technology and school counsellors. He spoke with pride of the coming STEM Action Center to assist in bringing activities mingling science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to classrooms.

Of course, a really great Democrat would have supported public kindergarten and small class sizes, but good is good. Amazing, really.   .

Otter then declared it was time to quit shortchanging our colleges. He wants a new task force to set goals for higher education. He asked legislators to set aside $35 million to fund new buildings at five campuses and to fund expansion of programs for such “in-demand career fields as energy, computer science and the health professions,” including the medical residency program of a private medical college coming to Meridian.

He left it to the task force to deal with tuition rates that discourage many potential students and the miserable pay of adjunct instructors. And he left it to local voters to fund expansion of the College of Western Idaho and a proposed “full-fledged community college” in Idaho Falls.

Yet, all in all, Otter took a giant step toward achieving the 60 percent go-on rate for high school graduates. Democratic legislators expressed both support for his vision and doubt that his party will go along.

Otter continued to talk like a good Democrat for another couple beats. He pointed out that Behavioral Health Crisis Centers in Idaho Falls, Coeur d’Alene and Twin Falls “are providing significant savings on law enforcement responses and hospital costs” and asked for funding for a Boise clinic.

Then he praised the Idaho National Laboratory’s work on cyber security and recommended a cooperative program with Idaho’s universities.

And, in a move guaranteed to bring howls from ALEC and the Idaho Freedom Foundation, Otter argued as far as cutting taxes was concerned, we’d been there and done that.

Then Otter put on his Republican hat.

Otter advised against expanding Medicaid to the 78,000 Idahoans in the “gap” population, Instead, he advised “continuing to build local partnerships and encouraging marketplace innovations that address our Idaho goals of improving health-care accessibility and affordability.”

Do you have any idea what that means? Maybe medical practices should charge peanuts for their own insurance plans? Or open free clinics a couple days a month?

Basically, Idahoans are to rely on an alternative that Republicans have failed to find for six years.

This was followed by speculations that the incoming Trump administration will give the states more say and enact reforms to keep the “EPA, BLM, Forest Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in check.”

Ironically, the examples Otter cited of stepping up Idaho’s participation in management of public lands did not refer to a Trump agenda, but to programs enacted under Obama which encourage the state and ranchers to practice fire prevention and suppression. I’d pity Otter for his naïve trust that Republican domination means his vision of federalism will become reality if I didn’t remember he has never championed power for counties or cities.

Strangely, Otter’s speech said nothing about roads and bridges.

Or about jobs in communities where unemployment remains high.

Still, the State of the State called on this year’s legislators to act for Idahoans, not party. Now it’s up to us to see they follow through.

Education: Sign the Ballot Initiatives

By Levi B Cavener

There is some irony in the precarious position the Gem State has found itself in. Despite setting a goal in 2010 for 60% of Idaho’s young people under age 34 to attend postsecondary education, the Idaho legislature then decided the way to encourage young people to attend college is to significantly inflate the tuition costs for those would-be students in the subsequent years that followed.

This objective was coupled with a comedic “Go-On” and “Don’t Fail Idaho” campaign courtesy of Idaho’s Albertson Foundation designed to prod would-be students into higher education despite the increasing costs to attend tethered together with lackluster job prospects in the Gem State to find employment.

And while it appears Idaho’s leaders would rather not acknowledge that the economics courses actually being taught in the Gem State’s universities could have precisely predicted the result of pulling the rug on funding higher education at exactly the same time Idaho’s families were struggling–never mind tuition costs–to simply put food on the table, Idaho’s young citizens do seem to understand those basic behavioral economics.

Dangling red herrings such as 21st century content standards, more school choice, and greater STEM focus as the solutions to Idaho’s lackluster college enrollment misses the crux of the issue in entirety. While these topics are worthwhile discussions in the their own right, they miss the fundamental problem young people are facing.

This discussion need not be that complicated: if Idaho continues to ignore rising tuition costs, textbook costs, lab fees, and student housing then the Gem State should also be equally prepared to expect stagnated postsecondary enrollment and a continued brain drain of our most talented young people for greener pastures outside the state.

The Albertson strategy of admonishing young people into postsecondary attendance is as equally cruel as it is ineffective. Young people living in a state dead last in the nation for wages, a state with exploding tuition costs, and a state with negligible public scholarship opportunities are making a rational economic decision for their future when they decline to enroll in higher education upon graduation.

While our state’s leaders may continue to ballyhoo other reasons for this outcome, Idahoans are becoming increasingly inpatient in addressing the fundamental problem facing high school graduates. As the price of public postsecondary enrollment continues to rise, the value of attendance in our higher education programs continues to decline in the eyes of Idaho’s young people.

The two ballot initiatives currently circulating in our state are evidence that citizens have become disillusioned that their elected leaders actually plan on making any tangible changes to this status quo. The first petition circulated by the group Stop Tuition Hikes has proposed a modest increase on tobacco tax to use the generated revenue in lowering Idaho’s tuition by 22%. The second initiative sponsored by Idaho’s League of Women Voters, similarly, seeks to end tax exemptions coupled with reducing the sales tax to generate additional funds for our state’s budget.

And there is a very real chance that one or both of these initiatives will generate the signatures required to get on the ballot; there is an equally real chance Idaho’s voters will happily vote to reduce their sales tax and decrease the cost of sending their children to college if they are given the opportunity to vote on such a measure.

If Idaho’s leaders and the Albertson Foundation are truly interested in improving the rate of postsecondary enrollment, I wholeheartedly expect to see them give us the gift of gushing endorsements on both ballot initiatives. I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Education: Teachers content, but shortage to worsen

by Judy Ferro

Teachers in 60 Washington school districts have voted for one-day strikes at a time when Idaho teachers are sounding more content than they have for years.

It’s no wonder that Idaho educators are grateful for the remarkable support that Idahoans have shown for schools this year.

Last week voters in 14 school districts approved $18.6 million in bonds and levies. Notus got the go-ahead to replace its 90-year-old elementary school; Marsing passed its first supplemental levy in forty years.

That was just ten weeks after voters in 36 Idaho school districts approved $107.8 million in levies and bonds.

Yes, voters in half of Idaho’s school districts voted this year to pay higher taxes to strengthen Idaho’s schools.

That’s on top of a 7.4% increase–$101 million–appropriated by this year’s legislature.

Wages will get only a fraction of that increase. Also included are funds for classroom technology, school Wi-Fi, teacher mentors, additional teacher training, and students’ tuition for dual-credit classes—plus basic funds for an estimated 167 new classrooms of students.

And, as Idaho Sen. Jeff Siddoway forcefully pointed out earlier this year, wage increases for teachers are important. Idaho is suffering a teacher shortage. A survey of 65 school districts last year revealed that only 10 had started the school year with certified teachers in every position. Last year, Idaho had 1,200 fewer teachers and 14,400 more students than in 2008. That means a heavier workload for nearly every teacher.

Worse, this is a national shortage. We can’t simply recruit teachers from other states. Across the nation, fewer students are becoming teachers at a time when large numbers of baby boomers are retiring.

Washington is one of the states with higher pay and smaller classes that regularly recruits from Idaho. So what’s with the crisis in Washington?

Earlier this year the legislature passed laws that will require hundreds of new teachers: full-day kindergarten, smaller class sizes through the third grade; and new graduation requirements in science, foreign languages, and social studies.

This sent school districts scrambling to find for new teachers and additional classroom space.

But now, with the current school year entering its last month, the legislature has yet to come up with funding for the new requirements.

The Washington legislature has been in special session for over 30 days without producing a funding bill. Absurdly, legislators are negotiating in secret. Some say Republicans are proposing a $1 billion increase in funding, and Democrats are holding out for more. Others insist that isn’t the problem at all.

Well, it is a big problem for Washington schools. The estimated cost of the new requirements passed by the legislature is $2 billion—yes, $2,000,000,000. School districts do not have that kind of emergency funds.

Yet, legislators talk of a second special session while districts postpone issuing contracts and setting class schedules. Budget deadlines pass with districts still clueless to what state support they will receive.

So teachers across Washington are calling one-day “strikes.” Now, it’s obvious that one day does not make a real strike; the teachers are not even targeting the school boards that they must negotiate with. .

These “strikes” are demonstrations aimed at increasing public awareness and pressure on legislators to get their job done. (The Idaho legislature’s failure to protect child support collections the first time around looks like a molehill in comparison.)

Unfortunately, Washington’s turmoil could end up being Idaho’s problem. When and if funding becomes available, schools just across our border will be dangling smaller class sizes as bait as they trawl for hundreds of additional teachers.