Student mobility bill runs into a roadblock

For most of the legislative session, lawmakers and charter school officials have been trying to hammer out a bill to address “student mobility:” providing funding for schools that add students during the school year.

On Tuesday, that bill’s circuitous path to passage became a bit more complicated.

DeMordaunt sine die
Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle

The Senate Education Committee voted to send the student mobility bill to the floor for amendments. And the bill’s House sponsor, Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, expressed concern about an 11th-hour rewrite.

“This has been carefully crafted legislation,” said DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, moments before the committee vote.

The student mobility issue has been a conundrum since the 2015 session, when Gov. Butch Otter vetoed a bill supported by charter and virtual school leaders. House Bill 603 attempts to address the issue — at least for the time being. Schools would be eligible for additional money if they absorbed more than 3 percent growth during the academic year.

Supporters say the bill is designed to help virtual and alternative schools that take on at-risk students during the course of the academic year. On Tuesday, senators heard from Monti Pittman, head of the Idaho College and Career Readiness Academy, where enrollment has skyrocketed from 68 to 121 students during the course of the year.

Committee members were hung up on the 3 percent threshold — and several said they wanted to reword the bill to help more growing schools.

“I think we have enough money to do more,” said Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise.

Other committee members echoed DeMordaunt’s concerns — and said a late-session rewrite could kill student mobility legislation for one more year.

“The hour is late,” said Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene. “The day is late.”

With lawmakers hoping to adjourn the 2016 session this week, time is tight.

First, senators would need to amend the bill and pass it. Then the bill would have to go back to the House, and lawmakers would have to buy off on the Senate amendments. Only then could the bill go to Otter’s desk.

Also unresolved is the funding. As written now, HB 603 has a projected price tag of about $1 million — and amendments could drive up that cost. The Joint Finance-Appropriation Committee hasn’t set aside any money for student mobility.

In other Statehouse action Tuesday:

Teacher bonuses. The House Education Committee and the statewide teachers’ union are at odds over a late-session bill designed to increase teacher bonuses.

VanOrden New
Rep. Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree

House Bill 627 would increase the minimum value of leadership premiums from $850 to $900. The bill also clarifies that $900 would be the minimum bonus for full- and part-time employees alike.

The bill follows on the heels of an error-filled state report on the $16.7 million leadership premium program. The report indicates school districts had awarded bonuses below the $850 minimum legislators thought they set in law. In some districts, administrators also awarded bonuses to every single teacher, even though lawmakers wanted the awards to go to teachers who take on added responsibilities.

“When we did the leadership premiums, they were intended to be just for that… a premium that would be given to them as a bonus,” said sponsoring Rep. Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree.

But Robin Nettinga, the Idaho Education Association’s executive director, asked the committee to amend or kill the bill. As part of the 2015 career ladder negotiations, Nettinga said the union was assured that every teacher would have an opportunity to earn a leadership premium. Because House Bill 627 raises the minimum value of bonuses, while relying on existing funding levels, Nettinga said it would not be possible for all teachers to earn a premium.

However, Republican lawmakers said they never intended for all teachers to receive a bonus. DeMordaunt said the 2014 leadership premium law predated the career ladder law, and he did not recall the agreement Nettinga cited.

The committee sent the bill to House floor for a vote over opposition from committee Democrats.

With Wednesday targeted as a possible final day of the legislative session, the bill’s prospects are unclear. The bill would need to clear the House and the Senate.

Career-technical teachers. House Education also advanced a bill designed to provide a different bonus to certain career-technical teachers.

House Bill 630 would provide a $3,000 increase to school districts for each career-technical teacher who holds an occupational specialist’s certificate.

VanOrden also sponsored this bill, saying it would help with the recruitment and retention of career-technical teachers, and keep their programs open.

That bill heads next to the House floor, and still must pass the Senate.

VanOrden said this bill carries a cost of a little more than $1.7 million — which isn’t included in the proposed public school budget.

Sunshine laws. Without a vote, the House seemingly killed a bill designed to bring more school elections under the state’s Sunshine Law.

House Bill 613 would have required financial disclosure reports for school trustee recalls, as well as campaigns for or against bond and levy elections.

Those elections aren’t covered under existing disclosure laws, and likely won’t be for at least another year.

House State Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, asked for permission Tuesday afternoon to remove the bill from the House floor and return it to committee. Loertscher said there were some unnoticed problems with the bill that needed to be fixed.

The House had been preparing to vote on the bill when Loertscher intervened. He did not elaborate on the bill’s problems are, or possible fixes.

But at this late stage of the session, it’s likely a moot point. With lawmakers pushing to adjourn the session as early as Wednesday, any setback is likely to make it impossible to revive the bill and circulate it through the House and Senate.

Education budgets. The seven K-12 budgets are still awaiting their date on the Senate floor, but senators polished off a few education-related budgets late Tuesday afternoon.

They approved the $14.2 million general fund budget for the State Department of Education — an agency budget that funds state superintendent Sherri Ybarra’s office. They put $2.3 million into the STEM Action Center for 2016-17. They also approved a bill that includes $971,700 to pay legal bills stemming from the Idaho Education Network contract debacle.

All three spending bills go to the House.

Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert contributed to this report.