Legislative roundup, 2.9.21: New higher education fee opt-out bill introduced

The House Education Committee introduced a bill Tuesday designed to let students opt out of university fees.

Sponsoring Rep. Julie Yamamoto, R-Caldwell, said she brought the bill because a nephew from out of state came to Boise State University, and the nephew’s father asked her why they are paying for fees that won’t benefit his son.

Yamamoto said affordability is a component of the bill too, saying higher education fees range from $829 to $1,177.

Yamamoto listed several fees as examples — such as fees for a diversity and inclusion center, a gender resources center, club sports, advising, childcare, student support services, student wellness, a sustainability center and minority student programs.

“It should come as no surprise to anyone that this would be something which I would be supportive of,” said Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls.

In 2019, Ehardt and 27 House colleagues sent a letter to Boise State President Marlene Tromp opposing several diversity and inclusivity programs.

State Board of Education Executive Director Matt Freeman said all of the fees legislators discussed Tuesday are mandatory now.

The committee voted comfortably to introduce the new bill on a voice vote, but several legislators from both sides asked detailed questions.

Rep. Steve Berch, D-Boise, asked what would happen if a student opted out of a fee, but then later showed up at a counseling center looking to take advantage of a program or service.

Rep. Gary Marshall, R-Idaho Falls, wondered why the bill didn’t clearly spell out which fees would be mandatory and which fees would be optional.

“I have tried to make it very clear I am not going to let (draft bills) be introduced that are poorly written or have questions,” Marshall said.

Tuesday’s hearing was only introductory. No public testimony was taken. Introducing the bill clears the way for it to return to the committee for a full hearing.

House passes monument protection bill

After a long and sometimes emotional debate, the House comfortably passed a bill requiring local governments and schools to get the Legislature’s permission before renaming a monument or school named after a historic figure.

House Bill 90 would require the Legislature to pass a concurrent resolution (which requires a simple majority to pass) on a case-by-case basis before local officials could relocate, remove, disturb or alter historical monuments or schools named after historical figures.

During the debate, several legislators invoked protests across the country from the last year where crowds toppled statutes.

Debate revealed the bill wouldn’t just apply to schools or monuments. It would also require local authorities to get legislative approval before renaming parks, streets, memorials or other public structures named after historical figures or founding fathers.

“The problem that this bill is targeting is we have a subset of people who are offended by things that are held very dear by many of the rest of us,” said Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, in supporting the bill.

The Idaho School Boards Association opposed the bill, saying naming decisions should be left to local trustees. ISBA also warned that passing the bill could transform the part-time, citizen-led Legislature into a full-time governing body.

After Tuesday’s 51-19 vote, HB 90 heads to the Senate for consideration.

Dual credit for private school students

A divided Senate Education Committee signed off on a proposal that could extend Idaho’s advanced opportunities program to 3,900 private high school students.

The vote came after senators heard appeals from administrators and parents from Nampa Christian Schools and Bishop Kelly High School, as well as a Nampa Christian senior. They came with a common message: They said private school students should have equal access to the advanced opportunities programs, which allows public school students to earn tens of thousands of college credits at taxpayer expense.

“Why does this program exclude funding for private school kids?” asked Nampa Christian board Chairman Marc Taylor, who said he has paid out of pocket so his children can take college-level classes while in high school.

Senate Bill 1045 attempts to strike a fine legal balance. Idaho’s constitution prohibits using public dollars to support private schools, so the money from SB 1045 would not go to the private schools. Instead, it would go to the students as reimbursement, or to the colleges that offer dual-credit courses.

Regardless, SB 1045 has a price tag. If it passes, supporters would seek $750,000 in a separate spending bill.

Costs were a concern for some committee members, who noted the spiraling price tag for the current and wildly popular advanced opportunities program. Gov. Brad Little is seeking $29.5 million for the program next year — a $9.5 million increase.

“We’re just spending and spending,” said Sen. Carl Crabtree, a Grangeville Republican who also sits on the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. “Can we even afford what we’re doing?”

Meridian Republican Sen. Lori Den Hartog made a personal appeal to colleagues. She said she helped her son, a Nampa Christian student, sign up for his first dual-credit class through the College of Western Idaho Monday night.

“We are Idaho taxpayers,” she said. “We are Idaho families. These are Idaho kids attending Idaho institutions.”

With the 6-3 committee vote, SB 1045 now heads to the full Senate.

Streamlining reporting requirements

House Education ran out of gas and ran out of time debating a bill that sponsors say is designed to reduce paperwork and reporting requirements.

Pushed by Vice Chairman Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, House Bill 69 is a complicated, 15-page bill to reduce or eliminate multiple reporting requirements, which Kerby likened to checking boxes.

If it passes, schools would not have to send literacy reports or college and career advising plans to the State Board. It would also specify that schools would only be required to use half of the domains from a widely used teacher evaluations tool.

Bruneau Grand-View Superintendent Ryan Cantrell, who also spoke up for rural schools in general, said the bill would free superintendents and principals up from paperwork so they could spend more time in the classroom. The Idaho Education Association also backed the bill.

Kerby urged legislators not to look at the details of the bill but instead consider it from a vantage point of 30,000 feet.

But Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, tried to kill the bill off. She said she supports many of the various topics the bill touches on, but she wanted it split up and rewritten to address some of the questions legislators had.

After exceeding the time allotted for the meeting, House Education took the unusual step of adjourning Tuesday with active motions on the table. The committee was originally scheduled to have the day off Wednesday. But instead, Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, said he would call the committee back Wednesday to address its unfinished business.

Disclosure: Idaho Education News covered Tuesday’s hearings remotely.

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