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Education Reporter

Idaho Buries School-To-Work
Dani Hansen
Dani Hansen
BOISE, ID - When Idaho Board of Education Chairman Harold Davis officially proclaimed the death of School-to-Work (STW) last month, grassroots citizens breathed a sigh of relief. In announcing that the state's STW offices would close their doors on Oct. 1, 2000, Davis stated: "There is no evidence that there are any STW efforts going on in Idaho, and we don't anticipate that there will be. A couple of local partnership councils have had some limited activity, but there is no indication of any public interest in their continuation."

His words were music to the ears of Idaho Eagle Forum members and education activists who have worked tirelessly to bury the program. "STW has been hanging on by a thread for three years," says pro-family leader Dani Hansen. "Our six STW partnerships, only two of which were very active, have turned down federal dollars and informed the Idaho Board of Education that they are happy with their individualized, locally-controlled programs."

Apparently, those partnerships did little to foster the type of program envisioned by STW proponents. Their "Certificates of Employability" had little to do with federal SCANS competencies and more to do with whether or not students could read, spell, punctuate, and perform accurate math computations. They created optional "career pathways" that focused on helping students go to college rather than simply getting a job.

According to Dani Hansen, the turning point in the battle came when the partnerships told the state board that they had no interest in making their individualized Certificates of Employability transferable. "In other words," she notes, "they had no desire to participate in a uniform, state-controlled program."

Four years ago, Mrs. Hansen reviewed Idaho's STW grant proposal and found that the regulations did not allow for local control as promised. "We immediately began traveling around the state holding two or three meetings per day with citizens in various communities. We wanted them to understand what STW would really mean for their children and businesses.

"We publicized the criteria for work-based learning and school-based learning, and the people in the communities said 'we're not doing that,' " she relates. "We exposed the mandates for tracking students. We informed businesses about the liability they would face while students were actually present in their buildings."

Mrs. Hansen and her fellow activists posed questions including:

  • If your business becomes a state-funded classroom, who will eventually own your business? 
  • If students damage your equipment and the school district pays to replace it, who owns your equipment? 
  • If a student is using a half-million dollar X-ray machine at a hospital, is it considered curricular material? If so, will the taxpayers have to pay for it? (Under Idaho's STW plan, curricular materials were defined as "anything students use.")

Hansen and company next defeated the bill that changed Idaho's education code to define equipment such as X-ray machines as "curricular materials." They demanded that clear definitions be given for new terms in the code. The code revisions took the muscle out of STW's rules and regulations.

The citizen activists also constantly reminded decisionmakers of their promise of local control. "We got local control," Mrs. Hansen notes, "and our communities decided that they could live without STW and surely don't want to pay for it."

Some grant money from the STW program actually accomplished good things in Idaho. "Schools received a lot of computers," Mrs. Hansen says. "A career access center was established that did not involve data collection but did allow students to interact directly with the state's Department of Employment Security. Kids were able to search for jobs on their own terms for their own purposes."

Funding for Idaho STW has now expired. "In the end, people just got bored with the concept," explains Mrs. Hansen. "Local business owners said they didn't like it or need it."

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