Charter teacher contract bill passes committee

Voting along party lines, the Senate Education Committee approved a bill Tuesday afternoon designed to give charter schools added flexibility in teacher contracts.

In so doing, committee Republicans went against the wishes of three statewide education groups, which urged lawmakers to reject the bill.

On the surface, Senate Bill 1248 appears simple. It would strike a clause in state law requiring charter schools to use contract language approved by the state superintendent of public instruction.

Bob Nonini
Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene

“All we’re trying to do here is provide some flexibility,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene.

Nonini and fellow supporters pointed out that the language is optional; charters could continue to use state-approved contract templates, if they choose to. They said the change would not affect existing teacher contracts, but might allow charters to experiment with using one-year contracts.

“Charter schools are meant to be different and innovative,” said Emily McClure, a lobbyist for the Idaho Charter School Network, which co-sponsored the bill.

The Idaho Association of School Administrators, the Idaho School Boards Association and the Idaho Education Association all testified against the bill — with IEA general counsel Paul Stark saying the proposal would erode contract protections for charter school teachers.

These concerns were echoed by Randy Yadon, principal and administrator at the Meridian Technical Charter High School. Yadon said the bill could turn charter teaching jobs into unattractive “stepping stone” positions.

Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, conceded that all of his questions weren’t fully answered. But he said he was willing to give charters the flexibility they asked for — flexibility, he said, “that they’d better use properly.”

SB 1248 now heads to the Senate floor.

In other Statehouse action Tuesday:

Tuition lock. Senate Education introduced a bill enacting Gov. Butch Otter’s “tuition lock” proposal outlined in his State of the State address.

Under the bill, full-time students at Idaho’s four four-year universities would not see their tuition rates increase beyond the rate they pay in their freshman year. The bill would apply to first-time students and eligible students who transfer from another participating Idaho university, and would lock in tuition for four years.

“It is designed to help address that middle band of students, and provide them and their families with predictability of tuition and incentivize timely completion (of their degrees),” said Marilyn Whitney, Otter’s adviser on educational issues.

The bill expected to return to the committee for a full hearing.

Parental rights. Sen. Mary Souza is again pushing a bill designed to increase parents’ rights in education.

Last year, Souza, a Coeur d’Alene Republican and Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, pushed a similar bill that passed the Senate but was never taken up in the House.

Souza’s new bill states, in part: “A student’s parent or guardian is the primary person responsible for the education of the student and the state is in a secondary and supportive role … As such, a student’s parent or guardian has the right to reasonable academic accommodation from their child’s school.”

The bill also states “parents who object to any learning material or activity on the basis that it harms the child or impairs the parents’ firmly held beliefs, values or principles, may withdraw their child from the activity, class or program …”

In 2015, the ISBA passed a resolution on parental rights bills, reaffirming that schools “also remain obligated to comply with state and federal mandates for the governance of schools.” The resolution also says districts “may experience challenges from parents who claim that their rights may be violated by school districts, as school districts comply with various state and federal mandates.”

Souza’s bill is expected to return for the committee for a full hearing.

Advanced opportunities. The House Education Committee introduced a bill designed to clean up several sections of law on advanced course offerings.

Thayn New
Sen. Steven Thayn

Thayn pushed the bill. A longtime supporter of dual credit and advanced course programs, Thayn said the bill should make it easier for parents and school counselors to understand four advanced coursework programs.

The bill would unify the programs into one entity and establish a pot of funding that participating students could draw from, beginning in their seventh grade year.

Once a student takes a dual credit course, for example, the $195 cost of the course would be deducted from the amount available to that student. This would allow families to track their remaining eligible benefits.

“In this way students can understand how that works,” Thayn said. “If the money is not used by the time the student graduates from high school it will no longer available to them.”

The bill is expected to return to the committee for a full hearing.

Transportation contracts. Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra’s staff is pushing a bill that is supposed to provide more local control to districts setting up transportation contracts.

Tim Corder, Ybarra’s special assistant, offered an overview of the bill, which would make districts responsible for drafting requests for proposals (RFPs) and contracts for transportation services.

Under the proposal, the State Department of Education would supply model RFPs and contract forms as a template. Districts would still need to have their attorneys review the documents and make sure they follow contracting laws.

The bill is “in keeping with the superintendent’s vision and goals for restoring local autonomy and moving local decisionmaking authority back to the district,” Corder said. “In this case, it’s also a matter of announcing they are accountable for that new-found relief from state oversight.”

The bill is expected to return to the committee for a full hearing.

Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert contributed to this story.