BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Ongoing disagreements over the state’s reading assessment for young students prompted Idaho House lawmakers to spike a budget proposal Friday for Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra’s office.
The 42-27 vote rejected advancing the budget after almost no debate, a surprising move in the Idaho Legislature where appropriation bills rarely fail once set by budget writers.
However, the bill’s defeat did not come as a shock to those who have been struggling for weeks without success on replacing or tweaking the so-called Idaho Reading Indicator — an early reading test for kindergarten through third-graders with the intent of identifying students falling behind.
Earlier this year, budget writers on the Joint Finance-Appropriations agreed to fund the state’s current reading test — which is nestled inside Ybarra’s budget — but denied Ybarra’s $443,000 request to fund a separate reading pilot project that supporters view as a possible replacement.
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The panel’s move sparked criticism that the state’s budget-setting overstepped their role.
Rep. Ryan Kerby argued that lawmakers agreed last year to create the reading pilot project in 2017 with the expectation it would expand this year. He said JFAC’s decision to deny the expansion funding wrongly overruled the will of the Legislature.
“We were expecting the reading test to be fully funded this year and it appears it is not,” said Kerby, a Republican from New Plymouth and the only lawmaker to speak against the superintendent’s budget on the House floor.
Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Greg Chaney of Caldwell tweeted after the vote that “this is what happens” when budget writers attempt to set education policy not already approved elsewhere in the Legislature.
Ybarra quickly released a statement once her budget went down, saying she was happy with the outcome because it would allow more room for debate.
“I am not surprised by this vote,” she said. “I have been hearing from districts across the state concerned that the pilot will not be expanded … This vote allows us to continue to work on getting the new (Idaho reading indicator) expanded to all districts.”
In 2016, Ybarra announced a contract with a Dallas-based vendor to develop a new reading test. The Idaho Department of Education chose more than 50 schools to participate in the vendor’s online reading assessment, with roughly 10,500 students across the state taking both the new and old reading tests.
While teachers gave relatively strong feedback about the new test, some lawmakers said it was too early to tell if the new test is a success.
Rep. Wendy Horman, a Republican from Idaho Falls, who is also the architect of the state’s education budget who supported removing Ybarra’s request to expand the pilot reading project, said she was surprised by House’s vote, but added that she would meet once again with stakeholders and lawmakers to find a solution.
Legislative leaders have been working to adjourn by March 23. It’s unknown how the House’s action might delay adjournment.