Legislative roundup, 3.18.21: Rural teacher certification bill held in committee

A Senate committee Thursday killed a bill that would have given small and rural schools more flexibility in hiring teachers.

House Bill 221 proposed allowing schools to issue local teaching certificates to fill their classroom vacancies. In order to qualify, an applicant need only hold a bachelor’s degree.

Idaho schools are short about 600 teachers per year, and bill sponsors argued that the COVID-19 pandemic will only exacerbate that challenge in rural and charter schools. Blake Youde, representing the Idaho Charter School Network, said the bill would have given administrators the flexibility to grant local teaching certificates to qualified community members, such as retired professionals, who wanted to teach.

“This is not intended to be an end run on certification, or to bring in any John Doe off the street to teach our students,” Youde said. “We want to see a long-term solution to the teacher pipeline in Idaho… but we have a today problem, and that’s what we want to solve.”

A handful of teachers testified against the bill, arguing that it creates education inequities between rural and urban schools by lowering the standard for rural educators. (Urban schools wouldn’t be able to use this local certification.)

“I have no doubt there is any problem with someone who is well-versed in their content to come into a school and volunteer and give their talents when to comes to educating in their content area,” said Stacy Pickens, a Vallivue kindergarten teacher. “However, my greatest concern in inequity is they would not be trained in classroom management, nor would they be in special education.”

Senators questioned why the bill was necessary, when Idaho already allows districts to use an emergency teacher certification for a candidate who doesn’t have a current teaching certification.

“There are better ways to go than to say, ‘You don’t have to be certified,'” said Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise.

Youde proposed sending the bill to the amending order for clarifications. Senators voted against a motion to do that, and instead voted to hold the bill in committee.

House Education gets back to work

With a new substitute chairperson, the House Education Committee reconvened Thursday morning — with committee leadership absent due to coronavirus.

The committee abruptly canceled its Monday and Wednesday meetings, although the committee did meet Tuesday. Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, and Vice Chairman Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, have both tested positive with the coronavirus this week, prompting the last-minute cancellations.

Clow and Kerby have appointed substitute lawmakers, who sit in for them on the floor and in committees. But on Thursday, the job of chairing the committee fell to Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, a seven-term lawmaker who previously chaired the House Agricultural Affairs Committee.

Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale. (File photo)

“It’s been a while since I chaired a committee,” Boyle said at the outset of Thursday’s meeting. “Hopefully I will do this right.”

When the committee got down to business, lawmakers endorsed one bill and killed another.

Student clubs. The committee sent a bill to the floor requiring districts to compile a list of sanctioned school clubs, and requiring parental permission before a student can join a club.

The sponsor, Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, described House Bill 329 as a “parental right bill” that would also protect school districts from potential lawsuits. Schools would not be legally responsible for an unsanctioned student club, although students could still form a club on their own. “We can’t keep them from doing that,” Ehardt said.

No citizens testified for or against the bill, and debate was limited. But Rep. Steve Berch, D-Boise, questioned whether the bill would create a bureaucratic headache for schools.

The House could vote on the bill in the next few days.

Veterans tuition. After lengthy debate, House Education killed a bill that would allow out-of-state veterans to pay in-state college tuition.

The sponsor, Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, R-Lewiston, said House Bill 330 could help Idaho colleges and universities offset enrollment decreases by attracting a “statistically more responsible” cohort of students onto campus.

No lawmaker argued against the idea. But they had a spate of questions — about the cost, estimated at a maximum of $5.4 million, and about whether the bill and its residency requirements would comply with a 2014 federal law making honorably discharged veterans eligible for in-state tuition in any state.

Noting that HB 330 wouldn’t go into effect until July 2022, Rep. Gary Marshall led the push to kill the bill.

“Let’s do the bill right,” said Marshall, R-Idaho Falls. “We’re not really hurting or holding up anything.”

Third House Ed member tests positive for COVID-19

Rep. Julie Yamamoto, R-Caldwell, was absent from the Statehouse Thursday after a positive COVID-19 test. Yamamoto is the fourth representative to test positive for the coronavirus in the past week, and the third House Education member.

Yamamoto was on the house floor Wednesday without a mask as lawmakers debated a tax-cut bill. She left the Statehouse as soon as she received a positive test, according to the AP.

Rep. Codi Galloway, R-Boise, was also absent from the Statehouse Thursday in an “abundance of caution,” after sitting next to someone who received a positive COVID-19 test the day before, she said in an email to EdNews.

Galloway is also a House Education member.

Asked whether she was concerned that COVID-19 has spread during House Education meetings, Galloway said most members are pretty spaced out from one another, with the exception of the chair and vice chair and secretary.

Many House Ed members do not wear masks during committee meetings or on the House floor. Galloway said that since Jan. 11 she’s worn a mask when she is not seated at her desk.

On Wednesday, House Speaker Scott Bedke told the AP he was concerned about whether the Legislature can finish its work. Gov. Brad Little didn’t directly answer the question Thursday.

“I’m hopeful we can get through the Legislature without more legislators being afflicted,” he said.

Ban on mask mandates sent for amendments

After a few minutes of debate on the House floor, a bill to ban mask mandates was sent to general orders for amendments.

House Bill 339, proposed by Rep. Karey Hanks, R-St. Anthony, would prohibit state or local governments from requiring masks, face shields or face coverings “for the purpose of preventing or slowing the spread of a contagious or infectious disease.”

This language would apply to public K-12 schools and public colleges and universities — which have, in many cases, imposed mask requirements to restrict the spread of coronavirus.

Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, debated against the bill briefly, saying that the bill as written could have unintended consequences like barring employers from requiring safety equipment — welding helmets for welders, for example — and could raise other constitutional issues.

After a brief recess on the House floor, Hanks asked that the bill be sent to general orders for “friendly” amendments, changes that would be in keeping with the bill’s original intent. But in the amending process, any lawmaker can suggest any amendment. Opponents sometimes craft changes — known as “hostile amendments,” in Statehouse jargon — that would fundamentally change the bill, or torpedo it.

This roundup will be updated throughout the day.

Idaho Education News covered Thursday’s hearings remotely.

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