Idaho Task Force Urges Longer School Day, Higher Teacher Salaries

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Salary increases for teachers, stiffer graduation requirements, and a six-period school day are the top priorities in Idaho's plan for a statewide program of excellence in education--and so are higher taxes to pay for the $72-million proposed reforms.

The Governor's Task Force on Education, a 30-member committee of leaders in business, the community, the legislature, and education presented its two-year "Investment Plan for Excellence," to Gov. John Evans this month.

"I am convinced that Idahoans want to make a major effort in the way of more dollars for education," Governor Evans said at the state-sponsored education conference during which the task force recommendations were made public.

The Nov. 3 conference was held to rally support for the proposed improvements in the state's educational system, a spokesman for the Governor said.

The Governor's task force, which based its priorities on recommendations from seven other studies (including that of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, and others by the Idaho Commission on Excellence in Education and the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry), recommended "modifications to the tax structure which will properly fund education."

Increases Imperative

The present tax structure, the task force said, will not even maintain educational services at the 1981 level for the period between 1984 and 1990. "Therefore, it is imperative that the Governor recommend, and the legislature enact," the necessary tax increases, the group's report said.

Idaho has been struggling to maintain state services in the last few years for a variety of reasons, according to an economist in the Governor's office. The economic recession has caused a reduction in income from corporate taxes; the federal government has reduced its contribution to the state; and a state initiative that capped annual spending increases at about 5 percent has kept local governments from increasing their budgets even to meet the rate of inflation. The result has been an increasing financial burden on the state budget.

To put the recommendations of the task force into effect, the Idaho legislature will have to increase the precollegiate-education budget for the 1984-85 school year by about 15 percent; the budget for the 1983-84 school year is $278 million. The task force, whose recommendations also covered the state's higher-education system, estimated that its two-year reform plan would cost $72 million for all education programs.

Although the Governor is "very optimistic" about the chances for passage of bills for the recommended education reforms, legislative support will not come without a struggle, according to Merle Parsley, an aide to the Governor.

Last year, Mr. Parsley said, it took weeks of battling before the education budget was approved by a narrow margin at exactly what it had been for the 1982-83 school year.

He added that the legislature at that time was "evenly split" into two factions--those who advocated increases in the education budget and those who did not.

But with the national attention education has received since "A Nation at Risk" was released, the Governor is expecting a more positive response from the Idaho legislature, Mr. Parsley said.

Early reports from the legislature's special joint Public Education Reform Committee indicate that the committee will recommend budget increases for educational programs in line with those of the Governor, according to Mr. Parsley. But Representative Steve Antone, a Republican who chairs the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, has predicted "considerable resistence" to higher income taxes and an increased sales tax.

Last spring, the state sales tax was boosted from 3 percent to 4.5 percent. It was to be a temporary measure, but Governor Evans is considering recommending that the increase be made permanent in order to fund the education plan, Mr. Parsley said.

Salaries Costliest Item

The costliest item in the task force's plan for excellence is increasing teachers' salaries.

"Idaho school-district salaries should reach equity with the six contiguous western states in two years," the task force report said, which would cost an estimated $44.8-million.

The national average teacher's salary was $20,531 for the 1982-83 school year. The average teacher's salary for the seven states surrounding Idaho was $20,769. Idaho's average teacher's salary for 1982-83 was $17,549.

The quid pro quo for increased salaries, the report said, would be requirements that teachers demonstrate mastery of their subjects to be certified and all teachers, administrators, and counselors undergo a periodic recertification process.

In addition to funds that would "further implement" increased high-school graduation requirements (previously adopted by the state board of education and sched-uled to go into effect in 1984), the task force suggested increased "emphasis by every teacher on reading and writing skills."

The task force also suggested that the state require a six-period school day for all high-school students. Currently the length of the school day varies from district to district.

As secondary priorities, the task force called for updating vocational-education programs, improving the state's schools of education, and establishing multiple levels of course offerings "over and above the minimums." The task force also recommended proficiency testing for all 6th and 8th graders, standardized achievement tests for students in 11th or 12th grade, and a 90-percent attendance requirement for students.

Higher Education

More than half of the task force recommendations had to do with postsecondary education. In discussions of colleges and universities, the task force grouped its recommendations into two categories: those that would save the state's postsecondary system from further deterioration, and those designed to improve the system.

Suggestions for "saving the system" included:

Raising salaries of faculty members. Comparisons of faculty salaries, the report said, show that Idaho salaries are "significantly" lower than those in other states.

Spending $3.4 million on library collections and facilities.

Replacing educational equipment in order to operate contempory educational programs, and then maintaining that equipment properly.

To improve the system, the task force suggested:

Creation of a statewide community-college system.

Substantial expansion of the state's student-aid program, "regardless of the financial means of the student."

A constitutional amendment to separate the governing boards for public education; elementary and secondary education would be the responsibility of one board and postsecondary education would be the responsibility of another, under the task force's plan.

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