Sunday, January 28, 2007

Community Colleges

Well, it’s been ten days since my last post so I thought I should write something -- I tried to make up for the delay with length!

I have chosen to discuss community colleges in this post because it is germane for two reasons. First, this past week was "Higher Education Week" at the Statehouse, which resulted in a lot of discussion on the issue. Second, in the upcoming weeks the House Education Committee will be faced with the important task of helping decide the fate of a potential community college in the Treasure Valley.

As I said, community colleges was one of the main topics of this past week with all of the public post-secondary institution presidents converging on the Statehouse to testify in JFAC and House Committees. What became clear, as the week progressed (I already knew, but it was reinforced) was critical role that community colleges play in education system. The main selling points, if you have yet to be converted, are low cost and high flexibility. These are benefits that can not be attained by what BSU President Bob Kustra referred to as, "senior institutions" for good, bad, or indifferent.

There has been some dissent, however, by certain legislators that a public community college is unnecessary. They first point to the existence of the Treasure Valley Community College in Caldwell -- it is an institution ran by the State of Oregon. Yes, that’s right, OREGON figured out what we needed in the Valley before we did. That is sad. The problem remains however, that as an institution of Oregon, we have no more right to change it than we would a private institution. That's called oversight, and that's one of the primary benefits to a public education system.

The next point that was made was that there are private firms offering education-like courses and they could easily be utilized. There are several things wrong with this beyond the lack of oversight, such as:
  • Quality (ITT and Steven Henagar aren't known for their academic prowess)
  • Cost (these places are much more expensive than a community college)
  • Financial Aid (most of them don't offer it, and if they do, its very restricted)
  • Transferability (because they lack quality, a respectable four year institution will not transfer the credits earned at these places)
  • Leakage (because they don't transfer, their is no incentive to stay in Idaho)

The point is, no solution outside of a community college will work (I am not going to address the “community college services” argument made by ISU President Vailas). So what is the solution, or rather, how do we get there? Well, in my mind a potential solution needs to incorporate at least a few things.

  1. Reduce the majority needed to pass the community college taxing district from 66% to at most 60% (originally the threshold was only a simple majority).
  2. Ensure local control to allow the institution to be flexible and responsive.
  3. Provide state, local, and private funding to get “buy-in” from all that will benefit from the community college.
  4. State funding must also be set as a scale to the so-called “full-time equivalent headcount.” This ensures that as the college grows (or shrinks) the state funding will do the same.

I could go on forever on this, but I’d rather have you read the whole thing so I’ll stop here. Please let me know what you think!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

High School Redesign & Luna's Budget

High School Redesign

On Tuesday the House Education Committee (of which I am a member), voted to approve new rules increasing the math and science requirements for high school students. Initially, I was skeptical about the requirements as I was unsure if they were in the best interest of our students. As I listened, I concluded that the changes made from last year were significant and put at ease most of my concerns.

Specifically, Dwight Johnson (Board of Education Director), made it clear that a cross disciplinary approach was integral to the new standards. As a major proponent of financial education, I was happy to hear that this course might be one of many that could be included as a math course. Also, I was happy to hear that these alternative math courses (my language not his) would reflect the needs of students, including non-college bound students. My remaining concern, requiring all students to take a math course their final year, was trumped by all the other benefits that I saw in this rule change.

Luna's Budget
Today I heard Tom Luna's budget proposal. As a caveat, I haven't had a chance to go through and analyze it, so this is only my initial take. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised about what I heard. Some highlights include:
  • Dual enrollment for high school students (sorta like Running Start)
  • Salary floor raised for teachers ($31,000)
  • Classroom supply stipend ($350)

The dual enrollment proposal is something I have been talking up for a while. Running Start, as it is referred to in Washington, is the perfect model of the dual enrollment concept. By taking students out of high school classroom (for at least part of the day) and into the college setting we are both saving money and better educating our students. It's a real win-win (provided the Legislature steps up and takes care of the community college issue).

Increased teacher pay is (almost) always a good thing and so of course I am happy to see it (not to mention the fact that my family will be a direct beneficiary of it). The only downside is that teacher in smaller school districts will most likely have to go even longer now without a raise. The stipend will also be helpful as teacher are routinely required to use their own money to buy supplies. Would you ask someone that works in an office to buy their own calculator or paper clips?

There were other items presented (more money for textbooks, increased discretionary spending, more money for technology, etc.), but these three were the ones that really stood out for me. I'll keep the blog posted as I learn more and as always, your comments are welcome.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

(Delayed) Response to Otter's State of the State

Well, I have had a few days to think about it and I am ready to give my thoughts on the Governor's speech. This may be a bit off-the-cuff, so please give me a little leeway. To organize this response, I am going to go through the subjects addressed by Otter and then address the subjects he failed to mention. As always, your comments are welcome.

1) Community Colleges - Otter's recommendation to lower the vote necessary to create a community college district from 66% to 60% is not new, but still good to hear. I am a bit disappointed he placed restriction on his support by requiring the vote to occur in conjunction with a General Election. In regards to funding, the five million dollars he mentioned is a good place to START. I do feel, however, that funding levels and enrollment levels should have a positive relationship. That is, if enrollment is high, funding should be high and if enrollment is low, funding should be low.

2) State Employee Compensation - This is another example of "fuzzy math." After listening to "Friday Focus" on KBSU (NPR), which also reviewed the Governor's speech, I heard something very interesting. Otter said he wanted to move away from the low pay, high benefits model. I guess he meant it. Otter's proposal is actually a net loss for state employees. To call this a raise is like calling a wildfire responsible forest management. The numbers are easy, if, as a state employee the most your base income and increase is 5% (the merit pay bonus proposed by Otter) and your health insurance benefit premiums are to increase by at least 6.5% (based upon the current projections), then you are looking at least a net loss of -1.5%. I suppose Otter wants to move to the low pay, low benefits model. Didn't he say he wanted to retain good state employees?

3) Grocery Tax - Well, I am torn. To be honest, I didn't expect the Governor to come out with such a fair solution. Notice, I used the word fair, not superior. Otter's proposal smells of egalitarianism, and that, in this case is a good thing I think. While I still think that there are other better ways to address this issue, this is the best I think we can expect from a Republican. The question is whether or not the Republicans that actually make the decisions (legislators) will take him up on it. I am hoping so.

4) Organizational Restructuring - I don't really have a lot to say about this... Eliminating the Dept. of Administration was probably just a step Otter had to take in order to separate the Department of Commerce and Labor. To bad for Keith Johnson, that guy just can't catch a break. Debbie Field was also nominated to be Drug Czar, I bet no one saw that coming (that's internet sarcasm). Honestly, I wish Debbie all the best and I hope she can be successful in her new position.

5) GARVEE Bonding - If this wasn't the most political stunt of the day. It was also perfect example of the Governors lack of leadership skills, or at minimum his willingness to step on limb and stand up for something. To say he supports GARVEE but won't provide input as to how its spent he is simply giving a non-answer. That's like saying I support hiring a good football coach, but not saying who that might be. The fact of the matter is that the Governor was elected to give his opinion. On a side note, I hope he remembers his reluctance to instruct on this issue when he faces other issues he really doesn't know anything about, for consistency purposes of course.

6) Pre-K Education - The Governor missed a chance to lead on this important issue. Pre-K education can substantially and significantly improve student performance throughout his or hers academic career. Too bad.

7) Treasure Valley Air Quality - Again, nothing was said. I hope the voters in Treasure Valley noticed.

8) Local Option Taxes - Alright, no this isn't "Bash and Butch Day" but seriously, this is a big issue! Not only is this a "local control" issue but also one that "increases customer service." Weren't those major tenets to Otter's speech (at least the latter). I would like to see the Governor to show some leadership on this issue.

9) Health insurance - Not a word. This only one of the single most important issues facing our State.

Alright, there is probably more I could say, but this should suffice. I look forward to hearing your feedback.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Things I'll be listening for during Otter's first State of the State Address

Well, this is the first OFFICIAL blog to be posted by an elected official on the floor of the Idaho House of Representatives. I hope that you all find this blog useful and provide questions or comment should you have any.

Now, on to the purpose of this post: Otter's State of the State Address.

I am eagerly anticipating the State of the State Address by newly elected Governor C.L. Butch Otter. I am hopeful that the Governor is able to answer questions relating to:
  • Air Quality in the Treasure Valley
  • Community Colleges, including funding recommendations
  • Pre-K education
  • Repeal of the unfair Grocery Tax
  • Minimum Wage
  • Health Insurance needs

I'll provide my own personal response after the official Democratic response tomorrow. To be sure, I am excited about this Legislative Session and will work my hardest to ensure that the issues facing District 18 are resolved.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Happy New Years from Glendale!!!

As my first official duty as a state representative, I will be attending the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl! If it works for the governor, it should work for me, right? The game will be an amazing opportunity for Boise State to showcase the University, Boise, and Idaho on a national stage.

As a side note, I hope BSU wins not just because they are my team, but also because what it might mean to the BCS. To be sure, the BCS powers-that-be should be weary of a 13-0 BSU team. How do you tell them they don't have a right be Nat'l Champs? Anyway, this all conjecture... BSU has to get it done on the field. My prediction... A good game!