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Otter, Little review the Idaho scene

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter converses with Dakota Bates, who chairs the ISU College Republicans, as Mike Webster, Otter’s eastern Idaho field representative, listens. (photo/Mark Mendiola)


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Top elected Idaho Republicans did not fritter away their time on the Friday afternoon before the evening Bannock County Republican Lincoln-Reagan Banquet Feb. 21 at Pocatello’s Clarion Inn, which drew about 250 of the party’s faithful, including the state’s GOP elite from Boise and Washington.

Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and Lt. Gov. Brad Little discussed education issues at Idaho State University shortly after U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo warned business people at a Mystique Performing Arts and Event Center lunch in Chubbuck of the nation’s worsening fiscal crisis.

Questions about the controversial “guns-on-campus” bill wending its way through the Legislature in Boise were among several questions fielded by Otter and Little in the ISU Student Union Building ballroom. On the previous Thursday, they spent time with Dr. Arthur C. Vailas, Idaho State University’s president.

Vailas told them he had been notified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that it does not allow nuclear research and development on campuses where guns are allowed because of security concerns. “I had never heard that,” Otter said, noting about 60 percent of ISU’s R&D is nuclear-related.

Another complication if guns are allowed despite the opposition of the state’s university presidents and law enforcement officials is ISU’s Meridian campus is shared with a high school, and state law forbids guns to be carried at high schools, the governor said.

Asked if he would sign a “guns-on-campus” measure if it is passed by legislators, Otter says he never signals his intentions as lawmakers finalize a bill’s provisions, mentioning he has been a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association.

Little defended the controversial Common Core curriculum being implemented by school districts nationwide that is supported by governors and superintendents. While the U.S. Department of Education puts money into it, it’s really driven by the states, the lieutenant governor said.

In November 2010, the Idaho State Board of Education adopted Common Core standards. In January 2011, the Idaho House and Senate Education Committees gave final approval to adopting Idaho Core Standards in mathematics and English. Some Idaho school districts have implemented those standards, Little noted.

Many Idahoans are concerned that Common Core is part of a national curriculum and the federal government is developing a massive data base on each student in the United States, Little said, noting his father and grandfather had to meet standards to graduate from high school.

Otter noted that of Idaho’s $2.85 billion budget, 68 percent of it goes toward K-12 programs. The State Board of Education has set a goal that 60 percent of Idahoans 24 to 35 will get a degree or certification by 2020.

Right now, Idaho boasts a high school graduation rate that is relatively high at 88-89 percent, but only 38 percent of high school graduates go onto college and even fewer graduate, making Idaho’s college graduation one of the nation’s lowest.

“Work force development is the key to economic growth,” Otter said, commenting that when he became governor in 2007, business organizations would complain they could not hire Idaho students out of high school because of their poor English and math skills.

A surge in Idaho’s community college system has helped reverse that trend at significantly reduced costs per credit hour, and high school students now can buttress their higher education by taking college courses, Otter said.

Since its inception in 2009, the College of Western Idaho in Nampa has become the fastest growing community college in the history of the nation, Otter said. As of the fall of 2013, CWI had 9,200 full-time students and, as of Fiscal 2013, 10,660 non-credit students. Its Fiscal 2014 budget totals nearly $54 million. In 2007, the Albertson Foundation committed $10 million to help start the college.

Otter defended the troubled Idaho Education Network, which recently was given $6.6 million by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee to cover the federal government’s share of funding the broadband network. A lawsuit alleges the state awarded the IEN contract illegally.

The governor noted that 196 Idaho high schools and 89,000 high school students are hooked up to the network, giving them access to courses they otherwise may not be able to take. Otter said he hopes the network also can be extended to middle and grade schools.

“We compete in the real world,” he said.

Before Otter and Little met with constituents at ISU, Crapo explained the monumental fiscal challenges confronting Congress in Washington when he addressed a packed house at the Mystique. It’s generally agreed the debt crisis is seriously putting the American dream on the line, he said.

At the start of the Obama administration, the national debt stood at $10-12 trillion, but it has now swollen to $17 trillion and continues to grow unabated. Crapo warned that Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security all are “screaming toward insolvency” and direly need reforms.

“Congress has a 100 percent perfect record of breaking every budget,” he said.

An economist who testified to a congressional committee said America now faces its worst financial/economic crisis ever with the nation staring at annual budget deficits of $500 billion to $1 trillion for the next decade. Crapo sits on powerful Senate banking and finance committees.

“We’re getting closer and closer to collapse,” Crapo said, warning if the government does not deal with the crisis, the bond market will. “We’re precisely close to when the bond markets will step in and cause it to collapse.”

Frustrated with Congress, Americans are fed up with gridlock, partisanship and personal attacks, but are discouraged and feel they cannot make a difference, Crapo said, urging his audience to get informed and engaged.

Those in attendance robustly applauded when Crapo said he has co-sponsored legislation that requires every bill in Congress to include a description of where the U.S. Constitution authorizes it to be introduced.

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