Legislative roundup: 1.14.21: Rules debates continue in the Statehouse

The Legislature’s education committees continued their review of agency rules Thursday.

In the Senate Education Committee, things moved quickly Thursday afternoon. Senators spent less than a half hour approving several routine rules. One was a far-reaching rule renewing several existing fees, such as fees for school employee background checks.

Things moved more slowly Thursday morning in the House Education Committee, as lawmakers spent a second day discussing an enrollment reporting rule.

Committee members quizzed State Board of Education officials about school funding and the question of using an enrollment calculation to calculate funding, as opposed to an attendance-based formula.

House Education took no action and will resume the discussion during its next meeting Monday. Senate Education will also take up the rule Monday.

At issue is a temporary rule the State Board approved last month, allowing schools to use the enrollment calculation instead of the attendance formula.

School leaders asked for the change during the pandemic, saying many students are cycling between online and hybrid education plans and are not physically in a school building every day for attendance to be taken.

Because the State Board’s rule is temporary, it will expire when the legislative session ends, usually in late March or early April. That gives the Legislature the ability to pass a law to shape how school funding is calculated.

But the stakes are high.

K-12 general fund public school spending is proposed to eclipse $2 billion for the first time in state history this year.

And if the Legislature remains silent on the enrollment vs. attendance question and does not pass a law, schools could be forced to abruptly switch back to an attendance-based formula at the end of this school year, unless the State Board intervenes again.

House Education members decided not to rush the decision.

“I think we’ve worn everyone out,” said Vice Chairman Ryan Kerby, a New Plymouth Republican who is presiding over the committee’s rules debates. “We’ve done a lot of work today, we’re worn out and we’ll come back on Monday and continue this discussion with the rest of the agenda items.”

Rules are important in Idaho because they are essentially treated as law. Legislative committees spend much of the opening weeks of the session reviewing agency rules before turning their attention to bills.

Education rules come before both the House and Senate committees — and historically, rules go into effect if one of the committees signs on.

And while Senate Education sailed through its work Thursday afternoon, committee Chairman Steven Thayn said there’s no guarantee the committee will finish its work Monday on the school funding rule.

“I expect it will take an hour and a half to discuss,” said Thayn R-Emmett, at the end of Thursday’s meeting. “It might take longer.”

Editor’s note: Idaho Education News covered these committee hearings remotely. 

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