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State Board approves funding change for schools during COVID uncertainty


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The State Board of Education on Wednesday approved a temporary proposed rule that allows Idaho schools to use student enrollment rather than in-person attendance as a way to collect state funding. The move was intended to offer funding consistency during the COVID-19 disruption, as students move between learning in person, online or a mix of both.

The new rule allows districts to use the full-time equivalent enrollment of students to determine each school’s funding, allowing students who are learning remotely to be counted for funding purposes.

“This rule is not measuring how much time the student is spending in attendance. It is measuring their minutes of courses per week, for funding purposes, and then we would expect and hope that the school district staff is making sure that the students are really engaged in the educational process,” said Tim Hill, Associate Deputy Superintendent at the State Department of Education.

The board unanimously approved the temporary rule, though they acknowledged it’s a move that’s bound to make some legislators uncomfortable. Chief Planning and Policy Officer Tracie Bent said she discussed this proposal with an interim workgroup of legislators this summer, and a number of lawmakers said they felt the move should be a legislative decision, instead of a rule enacted by the State Board.

Legislators will still have the opportunity to decide during their January session whether the rule should stay or be replaced, Hill said.

“If the Legislature were able to currently address this, that would be great. But they haven’t been given that opportunity and we can’t afford to wait until January for school districts and charter schools to try to figure out how to deal with this attendance issue,” Hill said. “The timing of such is what’s preventing the Legislature from taking action.”

Board undoes June vote on science standards

The debate over Idaho’s science standards took on another twist Wednesday when the State Board rescinded a change it made to the state’s science standards for K-12 students in June.

The science standards were a major point of contention during the 2020 legislative session, as they have been at the Statehouse for at least five years. The Idaho House this year attempted to completely repeal all of Idaho’s academic standards in English, Math and Science before being overruled by the Senate. When the dust of the session settled, the SDE created committees to review the academic standards in each of those core subject areas.

In June, the State Board attempted to resolve some differences with the Legislature by removing “supporting content” in the state’s science standards through a technical correction.

Supporting content included things like teaching examples, state Superintendent Sherri Ybarra said on Tuesday. For example, one learning standard for kindergarten physical science is that students can observe the effect of sunlight on the Earth. The supporting content suggested teachers focus on how “sunlight warms Earth’s surface.”

The Legislature was at odds with some of those teaching examples. They asked Ybarra to remove the supporting content, she said, and in June, the State Board agreed to do so through a “technical correction” to the standards.

Over the summer, legislators, teachers and members of the science standards review committee wrote to Ybarra and State Board  president Debbie Critchfield questioning whether the standards should have been changed through a more extensive rule making process instead.

Scott Cook, a former director of academics at the SDE, penned an op-ed calling the move illegal, and arguing that supporting content was “an integral and substantial part” of the science standards document.

Ybarra reached out to the Attorney General’s office for their opinion on the process, she said, and the AG agreed the board should rescind its vote on the technical correction.

The State Board unanimously approved that change on Wednesday, restoring the “supporting content” to those science standards.

The State Board plans to leave future changes to the science standards up to the standards review committee. It will consider implementing any changes or updates recommended by that review committee during a formal rule making process expected to happen before 2022.

“The public asked us to revisit that, and said ‘if you put   it in through rule making, take it out through rule making. Follow it by the book,” Ybarra told the State Board. “The AG’s office pretty much  said ‘you’re going to want to go down that path.’”

Tim Hill to retire next month

The SDE’s lead finance expert plans to retire next month, Ybarra told the State Board on Wednesday.

Hill, the associate deputy superintendent for public school finance, has worked for the state department of education for more than two decades. Prior to joining the SDE, he spent 20 years as a banker.

Hill’s last day with the department will be Sept. 18, communications director Karlynn Laraway said.

“I  have thoroughly enjoyed my 23 years here with the State Department of Education and handing out billions of dollars,” Hill told the board on Wednesday. “Sometimes, I get treated like Santa Claus. In any case, thanks for that.”

Originally posted on on August 26, 2020