Charter group makes push for veto override

A charter school group is urging lawmakers to override Gov. Butch Otter’s veto of a $1.7 million school funding bill.

However, it’s not yet clear whether the House will take up this fight.

A week ago, Otter vetoed House Bill 126, which would have provided funding for schools that take on transfer students during the course of an academic year. The bill would not solely provide funding for charter schools — but alternative and virtual charter schools would be among the beneficiaries.

House Bill 126 presser
Tom LeClaire, a Coalition of Idaho Charter School Families board member, speaks at a news conference Monday.

For example, the Idaho Virtual Academy receives 500 to 700 transfer students per year, said Tom LeClaire, a board member for the Coalition of Idaho Charter School Families.

As it stands, this school and others receive no additional funding when they take on transfer students. That student’s original school receives state funding, based on enrollment at the start of the year.

Schools need to receive funding based on fall enrollment, since they enter into teacher contracts based on these student numbers, said Sen. Cliff Bayer, a Meridian Republican and one of nine lawmakers to attend the coalition’s news conference Monday. However, he said, some funding also needs to follow students.

“This is an attempt to simply complement the existing funding formula, in a very modest way,” Bayer said.

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In his March 30 veto message, Otter said the bill only digs the state deeper into a funding hole. “The result of the measure will actually be double funding of some students while other funding priorities remain unmet.”

Otter has said his education task force has a committee working on a funding solution, and will present an alternative in 2016. In a Thursday letter to House Speaker Scott Bedke and Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, Otter pledged to seek a supplemental appropriation in 2016 to help schools cover the costs of transfer students.

The question, though, is whether the Legislature is willing to wait next year — or inclined to challenge Otter’s veto.

Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, the lead sponsor of HB 126, pointed out that the funding fix largely helps alternative schools that have to accept at-risk students. “Do you want to have them end up in the prison system?” she said Monday. “Waiting another year is not going to help those kids.”

HB 126 passed both houses with the two-thirds majorities needed to override a gubernatorial veto. But it will be up to House GOP leadership to decide to make the first move on a possible override. With the veto, the bill now sits at Bedke’s desk.

House Majority Caucus Chairman John Vander Woude attended Monday’s news conference. However, he said House leadership has not yet discussed a possible override.

HB 126 is the only bill Otter has vetoed so far this session — and the move carries a bit of political intrigue. In November, Boyle wrote a sharply critical op-ed piece about the Idaho Education Network broadband contract fiasco, blaming the crisis on Otter’s “crony capitalism.” Boyle has said the criticism “probably” played a role in last week’s veto — a suggestion Otter denies.