Statehouse roundup, 2.1.23: Critchfield makes her pitch for CTE funding

High schools need funding to expand career-technical education, and the state has an opportunity to support them, state superintendent Debbie Critchfield said Wednesday.

Speaking to the House Education Committee, Critchfield said some of the $330 million in new, already approved K-12 money could go into CTE — one of her top priorities as superintendent.

The fate of that $330 million — earmarked during a one-day special legislative session in September — is one of the biggest education budget decisions facing the 2023 Legislature.

Gov. Brad Little has spelled out a specific plan for the money, focused largely on teacher pay raises and covering salaries for classified employees. His blueprint doesn’t address CTE.

However, Critchfield pointed to a $52.4 million line item for discretionary funding, which local schools can spend as they choose.

“I think there’s some opportunity,” Critchfield said.

During her House Education presentation Wednesday, Critchfield sought to spell out the needs:

  • Idaho has an $84 million-a-year CTE budget. But $53 million of that money goes to postsecondary programs. Those are needed programs, she said, but the budget points out the relative scarcity of money at the K-12 level.
  • The state receives and fully uses $8 million of federal CTE funding. But 20 of Idaho’s 115 school districts don’t even apply for the federal funding, perhaps because the feds’ paperwork is cumbersome and “onerous,” Critchfield said.
  • Much of the CTE funding winds up in Southwest Idaho. Critchfield said she doesn’t begrudge that fact, but many rural districts don’t have the money to build the infrastructure — something as simple as a 10,000-square-foot shop building that can accommodate multiple programs. “That one thing is a critical part of the infrastructure,” she said.
  • While the education budget decisions will unfold in the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, CTE-related policy decisions are the purview of the House and Senate education committees.

During a freewheeling question-and-answer session and discussion, House Education members uniformly voiced their support for CTE. But lawmakers come at the issue from different perspectives.

Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, again voiced his support for expanded CTE facilities. On Tuesday, Clow voted against another one of Little’s education priorities: Idaho Launch, which would provide up to $8,500 for high school graduates pursuing education or training in in-demand careers. House Education passed the bill, but Clow questioned putting money into financial incentives, when CTE programs are overcrowded.

Rep. Dale Hawkins, R-Fernwood, said the state could save millions of dollars on CTE facilities by partnering with businesses and shifting training courses onto job sites.

Rep. Soñia Galaviz, D-Boise, emphasized what it takes to get students interested in CTE. A teacher, Galaviz said her students begin thinking about their career options when they’re 10 to 14 years old, and parents need to be a part of that conversation. “They are the No. 1 influence for children.”

Lawmakers in the Senate Education Committee exhibited enthusiasm for CTE after hearing a similar presentation from Crtichfield Wednesday afternoon.

Sen. Scott Herndon, R-Sagle, said CTE is a “critical” part of the education system, especially in areas with aging populations, and that attract retirees.

And Sen. Lori Den Hartog urged Critchfield and the committee to speed up the typically slow government process to help businesses and schools forge new partnerships.

“We tend to move at a much slower pace in government than business… however we can break down those barriers and make those timelines speed up is really, really important,” she said.

Critchfield pledged to be a “shepherd” to guide districts and industries toward CTE partnerships, and facilitate communication from the State Department of Education.

Two charter school financing bills introduced

Two charter school financing bills are headed to print. 

Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, introduced the bills before the Senate Education Committee Wednesday afternoon. 

One bill would expand the charter school credit enhancement tool, established by the Legislature in 2019. The tool allows qualifying charters to secure lower interest rates on loans. 

Den Hartog’s bill would increase the tool’s capacity formula, allowing more schools to participate, and make the tool available to schools that serve 100% at-risk student populations. The cap is now based on a multiplier formula, based on the number of students in charter schools. Den Hartog’s bill would grow the cap by taking the number of students in charter schools, and doubling that figure.

The second bill would establish a new revolving loan fund for charter schools to alleviate startup building costs. 

Charter schools don’t receive state funds for building construction, and cannot float bonds or levies like traditional public schools. Instead, they rely solely on other financing to obtain buildings or property to build a school. 

A revolving loan fund would alleviate some of the financial burden on charters by providing lower interest rates on loans. 

The fund requires a one-time allocation of $50 million from the Legislature. Each new charter school (about four per year) could request up to $2.5 million to be paid back over five years. The money in the fund would continually regenerate as schools pay off the loans. 

Both bills were sent to print with a unanimous vote. Sens. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, and Cindy Carlson, R-Riggins, were not present.


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