My crystal ball was rather cloudy last year. I had predicted that the major focus of the 2016 legislature would focus on taxation, largely by decreasing the highest marginal tax rate for the wealthiest in the Gem State. I thought education would take a backseat.
And while there certainly was discussion of updating Idaho’s tax code, those conversations fizzled like Democrats in their elections this year.
However, education was not quite the polarization machine Idahoans had come to expect it to be during the session, and the Tiered Licensure process continued to move forward without much debate.
Neither the Stop Tuition Hikes proposal to rate services cigarette taxes to support higher education nor the Idaho League of Women Voter’s plan to close tax loopholes to generate additional revenue for education garnered the required amount of signatures to be placed on the November ballot.
I was correct that there doesn’t seem to be any love lost between the Governor’s Office and Supt. Ybarra. Ditto Ybarra and the Governor’s appointed State Board of Education.
It appears that the Governor is leaning on the SBOE to grab powers and controls the State Superintendent’s Office has historically reserved for itself. That power struggle came to a climax when Ybarra and SBOE members literally had to call in a mediator to hash out what department oversees which particular responsibilities.
But hey, Supt. Ybarra’s decision to publicly announce she would run for reelection nearly three years before the actual ballot should have demonstrated there were whispers in the wind of displeasure about her at the helm.
Personally, I think she has done an admirable job of picking up the pieces left from the blitzkrieg her predecessor left behind in an attempt to top education on its head without public notice or support.
She axed the “digital backpack” longitudinal data tracking program embraced by Luna that years after being released was plagued by problems despite tens of millions of dollars.
She has surrounded herself with intelligent leaders and has largely stood her ground in advocating for the legislature to keep its word on dollars tied to tiered licensure. Her rural education support initiative, however, was a bust in last session.
Perhaps the most covered story this year in Education was related to an “expose” regarding refugees moving to Idaho in Boise and Twin Falls to be educated and assisted in becoming independent families.
And to be fair, a very serious, sad injustice did occur in Twin Falls involving refugee minors in a sexual assault crime. All of which propelled Twin Fall’s refugee program was propelled into the national spotlight.
And as with all gossip, a kernel of truth blossomed into a feeding frenzy that Muslim Refugee Terrorist hoards were coming to take over the Gem State’s schools, communities, and state. None of which benefited the newly arrived youngsters as guests in our state.
But, like the “bird-watchers” next door in the Beaver State, news has a way of moving on.
So what’s this year’s crystal ball see?
For starters, expect the legislature to groan over a highly misleading audit which indicated that most teacher evaluations are incomplete or inaccurate. Don Colberly, Superintendent of Boise’s, did a good job explaining why that report was off in most of its conclusions. Ybarra even also issued a statement clarifying the most erroneous outcomes of the audit.
It won’t matter. This year requires the largest expenditure increase for the Tiered Licensure plan. Legislators will expect solid accountability if they are being asked to write the check, and this audit will be a bombshell which may allow demands for more oversight or hoops to jump through in exchange for the purse.
But they will pay it. They have to. Our state is sitting on a 100 million dollar surplus that would have made mouths drool during the recession on top of meeting projected revenue incomes. In such an atmosphere of gold spilling out of the treasury, I can’t imagine the legislature would have the gall to block or delay writing the check.
Don’t expect any movement on healthcare. With the new occupant of the White House, it makes little sense to make any drastic changes until the new Executive outlines his own plan for the future.
Perhaps there will be a move to increase overall spending in education on top of the tiered initiative to mitigate the fact that the majority of Idaho’s districts are forced to levy their patrons. But given a fight to increase spending vs a fight to reduce taxes, I’m tempted to go with the latter.
I expect this to be the last legislature Otter will preside over before passing the reins to Lt.Governor Brad Little. The animosity isn’t lost between Otter and Fulcher since the last fight, and it may benefit Little to run as an incumbent in the election by having Otter exit early.
But the hard right may split the vote between Fulcher and Congressman Raul Labrador whom I fully expect to enter the arena for the 2018 election. I can’t see Otter as being even indifferent to the possibility either of them will be his successor. Dubious at best.
A dark horse for sure, but perhaps Luna even tosses his hat in the ring? A crowded playing field, as we saw this year, sometimes can jolt the most unexpected individual to the top. Alas, that’s for next year.