Souza unveils another bill to move school board elections

Sen. Mary Souza’s latest bill to move school board elections is in the legislative hopper.

And this time, she at least has the tacit approval of the Idaho School Boards Association.

The Senate Education Committee voted to introduce Souza’s bill, which would move school board elections from May in odd-numbered years to November in odd-numbered years. That means nonpartisan trustee elections would remain on a nonpartisan ballot, alongside races for mayor and city council.

“I do believe we have found some consensus now,” said Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene.

Souza has long pushed to move standalone May trustee elections, in hopes of improving dismal voter turnout. But the ISBA has opposed her efforts in the past.

The ISBA doesn’t oppose Souza’s latest bill, Executive Director Karen Echeverria said Wednesday afternoon. The ISBA would rather see school board races left as is, but Echeverria said the group sees the latest bill as a compromise. In the past, Souza has proposed moving trustee races to November of even-numbered years — which would mean these nonpartisan elections would share a ballot with partisan elections for president, governor, Congress and the Legislature.

In November, ISBA members adopted a resolution endorsing a move to a November election, in odd-numbered years. They did this, in part, in hopes of keeping their elections on a nonpartisan ballot.

The committee didn’t discuss Souza’s bill Wednesday. With its introduction, the bill is likely to come back to Senate Education for a full hearing.

Adult completer scholarships. In other rapid-fire business Wednesday afternoon, Senate Education voted to introduce a bill that could free up scholarship dollars for adults who want to return to college.

In the latest version of Gov. Butch Otter’s “adult completer” scholarship bill, the State Board of Education would be allowed to move up to 20 percent of money from its Opportunity Scholarship program into a scholarship for older students.

The Opportunity Scholarship is a need- and merit-based scholarship that generally helps traditional college students — although Idaho has more eligible applicants than it has scholarship money. An adult completer scholarship would be geared toward older students who have earned at least 24 credits toward a degree.

Supporters say an adult completer scholarship could help entice nontraditional students who have to juggle school with work and family commitments — and help Idaho improve its stagnant postsecondary completion rate. Otter has proposed a standalone adult completer scholarship in past legislative sessions, but the idea has stalled out in the Legislature.

The latest adult completer scholarship proposal comes as Otter is seeking a $5 million increase in the Opportunity Scholarship budget, which would boost funding to roughly $15 million.

Senate Education didn’t debate the scholarship bill, but the proposal could come back for a full hearing at a later date.

 

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