Governor Otter’s Education Budget: Throwing Money at the Corporate State

Governor Otter has proposed several big money education items in his budget. Each builds on previous programs recommended by a task force created in 2012 and operating on information at least that old. None of the task force recommendations implemented to date have been audited to determine if the programs are worth the cost. Furthermore, several of the programs have been found to not work well in other states and to be based on faulty logic.

An analysis of the governor’s recommendations should raise concerns about his agenda as the budgeted areas are identical to those pushed by the Bush and Obama administrations. This agenda favors centralized control of education and invasive data collection. Idahoans know the results of this approach are not promising and will not improve education in Idaho. Therefore Idaho legislators should not approve any of the governor’s education budget until the results of an audit have been done.

The Idaho Statesman reports the governor will focus on more technology, more college credit for high school students, teacher evaluations, college and career counselors, and teacher salaries. The article references “A broad-based task force of educators, parents, lawmakers and policy makers…” This is the governor’s task force on education and it was nowhere near broad-based. The task force adopted 20 recommendations for improving education in 2013 that included improving reading, raising student mastery of subjects and more technology in the classroom. While this may sound good, the truth is that the task force was never broad based. It was stacked with special interests supporting the agendas of the Bush Foundation for Excellence in Education, the Gates Foundation, the Albertson Foundation, and many others. The task force recommendations opened the door wider to centralized control, workforce training, and data tracking. It was a good recipe for establishing a corporate state.

Let’s review, in more detail, some of the budget items mentioned by the governor:

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  • The state’s five-year plan to improve Idaho Public education is based on recommendations that are five years old. Given that, legislators need to first review what has been done and ask, “What is working? What is not working?” before committing more tax dollars to the tune of a 6.4 percent increase over last year’s appropriation.
  • Otter’s 2017-18 budget asks for an additional $10 million to put more technology in schools. This despite the fact that evidence is mounting that more technology does not equate to more learning. In fact, more technology may result in less learning. That plus technology becomes dated quickly and schools must replace technology more frequently than textbooks.
  • The governor also is proposing a 16 percent increase to $7 million the amount available to students to help them prepare for college by paying for dual credit classes and advance placement tests. Again, there is no evidence that pouring millions into advanced placement and dual credit is yielding the intended results. Many students enrolling in these college level courses are finding that the credit is not being accepted for their major field and that the high school course is not the equivalent. There is no evidence that students are graduating from college any faster. One concern is that students, especially in the math and science areas, find themselves in courses that are beyond their level of preparation and as a result, these students switch to easier majors. Before throwing more money at this program, Idaho citizens deserve to know how well this is working and whether the money would be better spent improving regular education.
  • The governor also wants $2.5 million to provide better training for school administrators on doing teacher job evaluations. Here is the problem; many experts in evaluations say the Danielson Framework was never intended to be used in the manner it is being used in Idaho. Secondly, the idea that a one-size-fits-all approach to teacher evaluation will work when student populations and the types of courses taught by Idaho teachers are so diverse is ludicrous. Teacher evaluations should return to the profession and to local school boards. The current direction of evaluations is simply an exercise in data gathering to support an agenda. It has nothing at all to do with teacher quality. Teacher quality has been and can be effectively dealt with by the profession and by local school boards.
  • Otter’s proposed budget would add, to the tune of $10 million, the number of college and career counselors in high schools. While there is nothing wrong with encouraging students to continue their education, one has to seriously question directing kids into college/career pathways. To date, no one has been able to produce a list of jobs that will require that 60% of Idaho students have degrees or certificates. In fact, the insistence on the 60% rate will most certainly lead to credential inflation. Currently, the Bureau of Labor Statistics data does not support the 60% figure.
  • Of course, the item in the budget is $58 million to continue improving teacher salaries. While one cannot argue with the fact that Idaho teachers make less than teachers in surrounding states, the current career ladder does little to encourage, teachers to pursue advanced degrees or to make teaching a long-term career. What it does is micromanage the profession. This micromanaging costs in overhead and there is no data to support it results in any value.

To sum up; the governor’s education budget deserves a very close look by the legislature. It is based on the neoliberal ideologies of failed reforms and it is costly. How costly? We won’t know until we do an audit. So why continue to throw money at the same programs if you don’t know if there are any benefits? The only answer that I can think of was inspired by a look at Idaho’s registered lobbyists. The education-corporate complex will come out quite well. Taxpayers and kids – not so good.

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