TWIN FALLS — Six months after launching a partnership to allow homeschooled students to take online classes, the Twin Falls School District is eyeing expansion.
In June, the district signed a one-year agreement with Harmony Educational Services, based in Springville, Utah. So far, 16 students are enrolled in kindergarten-through-eighth grades.
It’s an option for homeschooling parents who want a little more support instead of trying to go it completely on their own.
“It seems to have been a really good option for a number of parents this year who are looking for online opportunities,” said Jim Brown, principal of Bridge Academy, an alternative middle school in Twin Falls. He manages the school district’s agreement with Harmony.
The school district pays Harmony to recruit students and for the online curriculum. In exchange, the district is getting more students and receives state funding for each one.
Brown said he’d like to see the number of participating homeschoolers grow. “What I really envision is quadrupling this.”
Kristi Hawks, a teacher of record for Harmony, said she’d like to see the program opened up to the entire Magic Valley, but there isn’t confirmation yet on whether that will happen.
“We’d really like to grow the program,” said Hawks, a Twin Falls native who now lives in Middleton. She’d also like to see a once-a-week in-person option for students to take classes.
Hawks comes to Twin Falls once a month to meet with Brown. She’s in charge of monitoring Twin Falls Harmony students’ progress in their classes and their grades.
Twin Falls parent Shawnee Zelenka has five of her children enrolled in Harmony through the Twin Falls School District, ranging from kindergarten through seventh grade. She also has a high schooler who’s in a different program, iSucceed Virtual High School.
“We have really, really enjoyed Harmony,” she said. “It’s been nice knowing my kids are hitting the Idaho Core Standards, but that I still have the flexibility of getting to teach them and choose the curriculum.”
Having results from standardized tests is also reassuring, Zelenka said, because she can make sure her children are on the right path to eventually become college ready.
Her children are each taking four core classes through Harmony, plus one or two elective classes.
One of the electives is rock climbing at Gemstone Climbing Center, with Harmony picking up the cost. “There’s quite a few homeschoolers doing that class,” Zelenka said, adding it’s an opportunity her family wouldn’t normally be able to afford.
That has been a highlight of Harmony so far, she said. “The kids absolutely love it.”
Her children are also taking a cultural exploration elective class that’s part Spanish immersion.
A couple of Twin Falls students are doing swimming and tennis through the Magic Valley YMCA and one is taking piano lessons.
The flexibility and choices for electives is a big plus with Harmony, Zelenka said, adding she also appreciates parent feedback is taken seriously and there’s an effort to meet the needs of individual families.
The Idaho State Department of Education doesn’t regulate or monitor homeschooling education. It’s up to each parent to select the curriculum they’ll use. Parents don’t have to fill out any paperwork or register showing they’re homeschooling their child.
Magic Valley Junior School and Magic Valley Commonwealth School are among several organized local homeschooling groups. Other families meet informally for classes.
Under the contract with Harmony, the district pays $300 to the company for each student Harmony recruits to enroll, according to the contract.
Plus, for the curriculum, the district pays Harmony $1,590 per year for each full-time kindergartner and $2,390 for each full-time first through sixth-grader. It costs $250 per semester course for seventh and eighth-graders.
The Salt Lake Tribune reported in May 2014 two Utah charter schools cut ties with Harmony. One of the school leaders called the company “predatory” during a meeting with the Utah State Charter School Board, saying taxpayer money wasn’t used wisely.
It came after a 2014 audit report from the Utah State Board of Education, scrutinizing distance learning and online programs in Utah schools. It found about $10.5 million in state money that year went to Harmony Educational Services and My Tech High Inc., another Utah-based online learning provider.
Harmony operates in four states: Idaho, Utah, Minnesota and Hawaii.
Here in Twin Falls, the agreement with Harmony is going smoothly, Brown said.
For the school district, a benefit of the agreement is becoming familiar with the children and their performance on standardized tests, Brown said. That’s helpful if they transfer into the school district later on.
“It’s pretty common that many of these students will attend a public school when they hit high school age,” he said.
Having test score data, Brown said, allows the district to better meet those students’ needs. Also, some students taking online classes through Harmony also take a few classes in traditional Twin Falls schools.
Harmony provides a “teacher of record” who oversees students’ online coursework and makes sure they’re on track with assignments, Brown said. The Twin Falls School District provides an Individualized Education Program or 504 Plan for students who have special needs.
For students in Harmony online classes, they must take the same standardized tests — such as the Idaho Reading Indicator and Smarter Balanced Assessment — as their peers in mainstream Twin Falls schools.
That may be a deal breaker for some families.
Harmony isn’t for everyone, Hawks said, adding some homeschooled parents don’t want that many requirements or the schedule.
But for others, the agreement with Harmony is a way to have support in individualizing their child’s education beyond the walls of a traditional classroom.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Fresh off his biggest legislative victory of the Trump era, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Saturday disputed projections that the Senate’s tax bill would add to the nation’s debt woes.
Back home in Kentucky just hours after the Senate narrowly pushed through the nearly $1.5 trillion tax bill early Saturday morning, McConnell predicted that the boldest rewrite of the nation’s tax system in decades would generate more than enough economic growth to prevent the burgeoning deficits being forecast.
“I not only don’t think it will increase the deficit, I think it will be beyond revenue neutral,” he told reporters. “In other words, I think it will produce more than enough to fill that gap.”
President Donald Trump reveled Saturday in the Senate’s passage of a sweeping tax bill, predicting with swagger that he and his fellow Republicans were “unbeatable.”
The tax legislation now goes to a House-Senate committee, which will try to reconcile the versions passed by each chamber. “Something beautiful is going to come out of that mixer,” Trump said, speaking during a fundraising trip in New York. “People are going to be very, very happy.”
Looking ahead, the president boasted that Democrats’ prospects in 2020 looked bleak.
“Right now unless they have somebody that we don’t know about, right now we’re unbeatable. We’re unbeatable,” Trump said. “And one of the reasons is what’s happening with the markets, what’s happening with business, what’s happening with jobs.”
Trump suggested Saturday he may be willing to negotiate changes to a significant portion of the tax overhaul, the corporate tax rate, injecting an element of uncertainty into the tax plan only hours after it cleared the Senate.
Trump told reporters at the White House before the New York trip that he would consider setting the corporate tax rate at 22 percent, compared to a 20 percent rate that he has pushed for with House and Senate Republicans during the fall.
Pointing to expected talks between House and Senate negotiators this month, Trump predicted “something beautiful is going to come out of that mixer” and the business tax would come “all the way down from 35 to 20. It could be 22 when it comes out, but it could also be 20. We’ll see what ultimately comes out.”
The shift perplexed some Republicans. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tried to pare back the proposed cut in corporate tax rates to 20.94 percent to provide a more generous increase in the child tax credit. But he was rebuffed.
“Senate leaders & White House fought hard to defeat expanded #ChildTaxCredit b/c of 20.94% rate but now 22% is ok?” Rubio tweeted Saturday.
Over the next decade, Republicans’ tax plan is projected to add at least $1 trillion to the national debt. That would be on top of an additional $10 trillion in deficits over the same period already being forecast by the Congressional Budget Office.
“I’m not one of the total supply-siders who just believes that if you cut taxes, no matter what amount, you turn out ahead,” McConnell said. “I still believe in revenue neutrality for tax reform, and I believe this is a revenue neutral tax reform bill.”
McConnell’s hometown congressman, Democrat John Yarmuth, said Senate Republicans had “abdicated any claim they had to being the party of fiscal responsibility.”
“There is nothing remotely responsible about forcing through a ... hastily conceived bill to give tax cuts to the already wealthy and multi-national corporations,” Yarmuth said in a statement.
McConnell predicted that the GOP-led House and Senate can resolve differences over the tax legislation and get it to President Donald Trump before Christmas. McConnell said he doesn’t foresee any compromises that would threaten the Senate Republican coalition supporting the bill.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., was the only lawmaker to cross party lines, voting in opposition along with Democrats.
McConnell also disputed claims by the bill’s critics that it focuses its tax reductions on businesses and higher-earning individuals, while giving more modest breaks to others.
“I haven’t run into anybody during this whole tax discussion who’s very successful who thinks they’re benefiting from it,” the Senate leader said.
The bill would award about $2,200 a year in tax relief to the average family of four, McConnell said. “And that’s pretty darn important to them,” he said.
Voters ultimately can look to the nation’s economic performance to determine whether Republicans or Democrats were right in the bitter tax debate.
“Look, a year or two from now, you guys can make an assessment which one of us was right,” he said to reporters. “The proof will be in whether or not the economy picks up and things get better.”
McConnell, the state’s longest-serving senator, also indicated during his appearance in Louisville that he plans to run for another Senate term in 2020.
Asked whether he’s bracing for a potential challenge from within his own party, McConnell said as a party leader he gets “a lot of slings and arrows.”
“I think the best way to judge a campaign is how did it end, not how did it begin,” he said, pointing out that he overwhelmingly carried the state in 2014 in the primary and general elections.
TWIN FALLS — Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday morning, Janet Bartelf drives one hour from her home near West Magic Reservoir to DaVita Dialysis in Twin Falls.
When she pulls into either of the two entrances to the Pole Line Road clinic, she waits another 5 to 15 minutes for a line of cars ahead of her. For the other drivers, it’s the usual rush to get their early-morning caffeine fix at Dutch Bros. Coffee. But it’s made Bartelf late, on multiple occasions, for the treatment she needs to live another day.
“It’s almost impossible some mornings to get into dialysis,” she said. “It makes you anxious and angry, and that’s not good either. I have other problems.”
The double lines of drive-through customers regularly block patients from reaching the front or the back of DaVita Dialysis, Bartelf said. And it also can make exiting tricky.
But technically, the situation doesn’t break city code. Over the past year, DaVita and Dutch Bros. have worked with their landlords and the city to reach a compromise — but it seems that even the solutions present more problems.
In the meantime, it’s an issue that many patients with chronic kidney disease have to face multiple times a week, DaVita Dialysis Facility Administrator Trevor Pulley said.
“We can’t get patients really in or out,” he said. “Probably 75 percent (of them) need to be able to be dropped off right at our front door.”
Angi Veek, a corporate spokeswoman for Dutch Bros., said the company is keeping an open communication with the city and DaVita. The developer is working to submit plans to the city to reroute the drive-through.
“Our growth team is very well aware of it and working with the local developer,” she said.
In the meantime, they have rerouted lines around the DaVita building, Veek said.
But that wasn’t the case on Thursday afternoon, when one lane of cars crept along just inches from parked vehicles in front of DaVita Dialysis — blocking the aisle to pull up to or out of the center’s patient entrance.
“This isn’t the busy time of day, either,” said Michelle Roberts, a social worker for DaVita. “This is mild.”
Pulley said his communication with Dutch Bros. over the past year has so far been fruitless. Besides that, on the few occasions Dutch Bros. staff have rerouted vehicles around the back of his building, he said, it’s been an equally bad situation: The drive-through line passes between two rows of parked cars and blocks the handicapped parking.
Dutch Bros. came into the development off of Pole Line Road in 2015, the year after DaVita Dialysis moved there. The businesses have had conflicts ever since. DaVita Dialysis built its building front to its property line.
When Pulley complained to the City Council in January, he was referred to the city’s planning and zoning department to try to sort things out.
“Everything is to code,” Twin Falls Zoning and Development manager Renee Carraway-Johnson said. “It’s just a worst-case scenario for traffic flow.”
In fact, foreseeing issues after Dutch Bros. got its special use permits, the city opted to change its code to prevent those problems from happening elsewhere, she said. But the new code doesn’t apply to what was already approved.
“They’ve been a lot more successful than anticipated,” Carraway-Johnson said.
Dutch Bros. proposed stacking vehicles onto another property to help solve the problem. But Carraway-Johnson said Wednesday the city hadn’t received an application.
The Twin Falls coffee franchise also changed ownership a couple of months ago, and is being run by a regional manager from out of state.
DaVita could appeal the Planning and Zoning Commission to revoke one or both of Dutch Bros.’ special use permits for the drive-throughs. Pulley said he hasn’t done so, in an effort to be neighborly, but it may yet come to that.
Premier Auto Group, an adjacent property owner, previously had issues with Dutch Bros. customers pulling into its lot after missing the turn when the coffee shop first opened.
“The entrance to Dutch Bros. and DaVita is very confusing to get into,” sales manager Clay McCombs said.
Citing safety reasons, the dealership installed a fence and planter between the properties to prevent people from cutting through to get to the drive-through. Except for the occasional lost customer, McCombs said he hasn’t had a lot of issues since.
But DaVita patients report that besides the inconvenience and late appointments, they’ve been honked at and yelled at by drivers in the coffee line when they try to get to either of two exits that are blocked. Bartelf said she’s even been flipped off.
With faded paint and no signage, it’s an unusual layout and a stressful situation for many first-timers as well as those who return time after time.
“I feel bad complaining,” Bartelf said. But, “I don’t think it’s fair to us when they take up the whole place.”
DaVita Dialysis would have to spend millions of dollars to relocate because its business requires a specific water system and plumbing in order to do the treatments. But Pulley and his staff worry that they could face a potential lawsuit with the situation as it is.
That’s because emergency vehicles could be blocked in or out if they arrive at the wrong time of day.
“Our people are really sick,” Dietician Janine Neiwirth said. “That could be a major safety issue.”
Bartelf worries about what could happen if she had a second stroke during one of her three-hour treatments. It isn’t unheard of for a patient to need an ambulance due to health concerns, Pulley said.
“It’s just kind of a ticking time bomb,” he said. “That’s going to be a huge liability. It could be life or death for someone, or it could be a huge lawsuit.”
TWIN FALLS — A suspected drug trafficker shot at a state trooper in the Twin Falls Walmart parking lot early Saturday morning, according to a statement from Idaho State Police.
At around 3 a.m., troopers were attempting to arrest Bonafacio Carlos Taffola, 24, and Arcenio Sosa Solorio, 26, authorities said. The two men, Mexican nationals who are thought to have recently lived in the Twin Falls area, are suspected of drug trafficking, according to police.
While troopers were attempting to arrest Taffola and Solorio, one of the men reportedly took out a pistol and shot at an officer. Nobody was hit or injured, ISP said. One of the suspects tried to run away, but was taken into custody shortly after.
Thirty-eight pounds of marijuana were found in the suspects’ car, along with 2 grams of methamphetamine and paraphernalia, according to police. All in all, approximately $75,000 worth of drugs were taken as evidence.
Both Taffola and Solorio have been booked into the Twin Falls County Jail.