Statehouse roundup, 2.12.15: New anti-SBAC bill, and more

State Rep. Ron Nate is back with a bill to derail this spring’s standardized tests — and now he’s trying his luck on the Senate side of the rotunda.

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Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg

Nate, R-Rexburg, convinced the Senate Education Committee to introduce a new version of his bill, urging State Superintendent Sherri Ybarra to pull Idaho from the multistate Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. The consortium is the author of the state’s new standardized test, the Idaho Standards Achievement Test by Smarter Balanced.

Nate’s arguments against the test are unchanged. He says the computerized tests are costly and time-consuming. He says the tests place undue pressure on students and teachers alike, with students referring to them as the “StressBAC” test.

After a test run in 2014, Idaho will formally adopt the test this year — using it to measure student and school performance. The new test is aligned to the state’s new Idaho Core Standards, but Nate said he does not see the bill as an anti-Common Core measure.

Nate said districts and schools would be able to stick with the SBAC if they so chose. However, he said, the exam would no longer be used as a graduation requirement, and his bill instructs Ybarra to “immediately” remove Idaho from the testing consortium.

Thirteen days ago, Nate unveiled a similar bill, bypassing the House committee process to introduce the bill himself. The freshman lawmaker conceded this move was a “mistake,” and he said House leadership has no interest in hearing this first bill.

This prompted Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, to vote against introducing Nate’s latest bill, saying senators would be wasting their time working on a bill that is doomed in the House.

Committee members disagreed. Nate’s new bill will likely come back to the committee for a full hearing at a later date.

In other Statehouse legislative news:

Tiered licensure/career ladder. When it comes to one of the most eagerly awaited education bills of the year, the wait continues.

Senate Education had the introduction of a tiered teacher licensure and career ladder on Thursday’s agenda. However, the bill was pulled at the last moment due to technical glitches.

“It’s a big bill,” said Marilyn Whitney, an education aide to Gov. Butch Otter. “There have been some tweaks and changes made to it.”

She said the bill will be before Senate Education at its next meeting, which is Monday. That’s the deadline for introducing new bills in the committee.

The tiered licensure plan would create two levels of teacher licensing, while the career ladder plan would ultimately boost starting teacher pay to $40,000 and top teacher salaries to $58,000.  The two components of the plan have drawn fire from teachers and the Idaho Education Association. Critics have questioned the plan to tie teacher salaries to student achievement and local evaluations, and have urged the state to slow down the plan.

Otter is pushing to pass both components this legislative session.

Short-term contract help. Ybarra has hired former state budget director Brad Foltman to audit the State Department of Education’s contract process, Betsy Russell of the Spokane Spokesman-Review reported Thursday.

“The department didn’t have a contracts person,” Ybarra legislative liaison Tim Corder told Russell. “We thought it was prudent to take a look at what has happened.”

Foltman will be paid $25,000 for up to 60 days, and Corder told Russell the short-term arrangement could be extended.

The department awards more than 1,000 contracts annually. Ybarra’s 2015-16 budget request includes $109,600 for a permanent purchasing and contracts officer.

Funding formula. A Midvale Republican is renewing her push to tweak the school funding formula and help schools that experience enrollment increases during the year.

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Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale

Rep. Judy Boyle convinced fellow House Education Committee members to introduce her bill Thursday. The bill deals with salary-based apportionment and altering the funding formula so schools would receive money for teacher pay based on their best 28 weeks of attendance.

The current formula sends salary money to districts based on a school’s first 10 weeks in session. Boyle says this hurts some virtual, charter and public schools.

“Some receive a lot of students (during the middle of the year) and the reason is we move a lot and kids have accidents or illness or kids are at risk and can’t just seem to cut it in the school they are at,” Boyle said.

The bill would not affect schools that would continue to use the first 10 weeks of attendance numbers, Boyle said.

Last year, Boyle sponsored the same bill. It passed the House 41-27 but was not taken up in the Senate.

Boyle said she introduced the bill earlier this session in hopes of giving it time to circulate through both legislative chambers.

Last year, the Idaho School Boards Association and Idaho Rural Schools Association opposed the bill, calling it an unfunded mandate that could require the state to pay districts for the same student twice.

Boyle estimated the tweaks to the funding formula would cost the state $1.7 million this year.

Reporter Clark Corbin contributed to this report. 

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