DeMordaunt drafts third bill trying to help growing districts

For the third time in as many weeks, the chairman of the House Education Committee attempted to address funding concerns for schools that absorb midyear enrollment increases.

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Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle

Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, said the bill introduced Monday improves over the previous two versions, which haven’t moved out of committee.

But with lawmakers hoping to adjourn the session possibly next week, DeMordaunt recognized the repetitive nature of his actions.

“You’ve seen the movie ‘Groundhog Day,’” DeMordaunt said, referencing the 1993 comedy that follows a character who relives the same day over and over again. “Well, here we go.”

Like its predecessor, DeMordaunt’s new legislation would provide funding for school districts that experience an increase of 3 percent or more in the number of classroom units during a given year.

The bill is also based on the state’s complex average daily attendance funding model. In legislative and budget lingo, classroom units are referred to as support units.

But the new bill would increase the funding boost. Districts would receive funding to 75 percent of the difference between the number of classroom units calculated at the beginning of the year and at the end.

So, if a district began the year with 100 classroom units, and that number grew to 104, the district would receive funding for three additional classroom units.

The previous bill called for a 50 percent funding boost.

The new bill would automatically expire in three years. DeMordaunt made that change so that a new school funding committee could draft a long-term financial solution.

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Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian

The committee debated how to proceed with the bill. Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, tried unsuccessfully to fast-track the bill by sending it straight to the House floor.

Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian, said he would like the bill to follow a more traditional path and return to the committee for a full hearing.

Harris won out, and the bill is expected to return as early as this week for its hearing.

DeMordaunt estimated his bill would cost a little more than $1 million. So far, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee has not funded the student mobility issue. Budget writers have said they would augment the public school budget if a student mobility bill moves through both legislative chambers.

In other Statehouse action Monday.

Career ladder. The Idaho House voted 64-4 to pass a bill expanding on the 2015 career ladder salary law.

House Bill 571 brings pupil services staff members such as counselors and speech language pathologists onto the salary ladder.

It also calls on experts from the state’s colleges and universities to perform random audits of teacher evaluations performed by school administrators.

Teacher evaluations are important because the career ladder law now links millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money to teacher evaluations. Last year, Idaho Education News raised questions about the accuracy of teacher evaluations after administrators from 32 of the state’s 115 school districts reported that each of their teachers received an identical score.

The bill shifts evaluations oversight from Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra’s State Department of Education to the Idaho State Board of Education, which oversees colleges and universities.

The bill next heads to the Senate.

School waivers. The House voted 55-13 to pass a bill to allow up to 10 schools a year to request a waiver from laws or policies that prevent them from innovating or responding to local needs.

Sponsoring Rep. Wendy Horman said House Bill 570 satisfies a recommendation from Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education that calls for empowering autonomy by removing bureaucratic constraints.

“Local school often feel like they wish they had more flexibility to respond to changes in industry or changing student demographics,” said Horman, R-Idaho Falls.

However, House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, wondered whether the bill is attempting to transform public schools into charter schools or would pit teachers against each other.

Horman said her bill would not remove due process or grievance rights for teachers. She also said schools that request a waiver would not be able to opt out of the SBAC tests or pursue anything that would jeopardize their accreditation status.

The bill next heads to the Senate. 

Literacy. The Senate quickly and unanimously gave its approval to one piece of the literacy initiative.

House Bill 451 is the parental notification piece of the literacy package. It requires schools to notify parents if their kindergartners through third-graders are not reading at grade level.

The Senate still has to vote on a House-passed bill that would spell out options to provide extra help for struggling readers. And JFAC still has to craft a spending plan for literacy.

With the 35-0 vote, HB 451 heads to Otter’s desk.

Civics test. A nonbinding resolution to make over Idaho’s new high school civics test survived a challenge in a Senate committee.

House Concurrent Resolution 50 suggests adding Idaho-specific questions into the civics test — a graduation requirement approved in 2015.

But the resolution ran into some resistance from officials in the West Ada School District, where 3,000 11th graders are taking the civics exam this week. Laurie Gash, the district’s social studies coordinator, questioned language in the resolution that suggested the high-stakes test would need to be administered in 12th grade. And she said the cost of rewriting the test would fall to districts.

It’s something that we have to manage and carry out,” Gash told the committee.

The resolution’s sponsor downplayed the cost of working Idaho-specific questions into the exam.

“This is not rocket science,” said Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls.

The Senate Education Committee sent Bateman’s resolution to the Senate floor for a final vote — over objections from Sens. Cherie Buckner-Webb and Janie Ward-Engelking, both D-Boise.

Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert contributed to this report.