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Idaho lawmakers: $260 million in education money at stake

An Idaho high school. The Idaho Legislature will consider new math, science and English standards. File photo

With $260 million in federal money at stake, lawmakers on a Senate panel on Monday voted to create an interim committee to review and recommend new math, science and English standards for Idaho’s 300,000 students in grades kindergarten through 12.

The Senate Education Committee voted unanimously to send to the full Senate a concurrent resolution to form the interim committee that would meet over the summer.

The House Education Committee last week rejected the current standards, called Idaho Content Standards, that are heavily based on Common Core standards and are often referred to by that name.

The Common Core standards are benchmarks adopted by more than 40 states to describe what students should know after completing each grade. They allow states to compare how their students are doing with students in other states. The National Governors Association developed the standards.

In general, opponents contend they are a federal program with sometimes inappropriate curriculum being forced on states while allowing some companies to profit at the expense of Idaho school children who aren’t achieving better results. Those were the arguments the House Education Committee said persuaded them to reject the standards.

Those in favor of keeping the standards, in general, say the standards are something states voluntarily opt into with identifiable benchmarks that help schools and teachers without setting curriculum. The standards are keeping Idaho students competitive, they said.

The education standards in Idaho are subject to the state’s arcane administrative rules process. That is why they are being reviewed by lawmakers.

The House committee rejected them. But under the rules, the standards would remain in effect unless the Senate also votes to remove them.

Lawmakers on the Senate committee said during the meeting that they received information from Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra that the state could lose $260 million annually in federal money if the Senate also rejects the standards.

Republican Senate Education Committee Chairman Dean Mortimer said after the meeting that he doesn’t want his committee to reject them.

“I do not agree with the House,” he said after the meeting. “In my opinion, it is very, very important that we keep content standards in place. If we want to change our content standards, we need to go through the normal process of instructing our state board and state department to go back and review our standards and give them recommendations for proposed changes. It needs to be be done orderly.”

He said his committee will likely vote on the standards later this week or next week.

Mortimer said he introduced the concurrent resolution in hopes the interim committee could find areas of agreement on keeping or changing the current standards.

Mortimer, in response to a question from Democratic Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking during the meeting, said Idaho replacing the current standards would be a lengthy process taking up to five years and cost millions of dollars.

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