Statehouse roundup, 1.8.19: Education committees gear up for busy session

New House Education Committee vice chairman Ryan Kerby warned his fellow lawmakers Tuesday they will be in for a wild ride this session.

“This year will be pretty crazy, I think everybody is aware of the situation,” Kerby, R-New Plymouth said during the first House Education Committee meeting of the year.

Kerby knew he didn’t need to elaborate.

Rep. Ryan Kerby

For the past three years, an interim committee has been developing a proposal to rewrite Idaho’s school funding formula. The interim committee put together a partial framework for a funding rewrite late in 2018, and then announced it was handing off the project to the House and Senate education committees.

Any tweak to Idaho’s school funding formula will be important and closely watched because of the money involved. K-12 education spending is Idaho’s largest general fund expense, and accounts for about 48 percent of state spending.

Even if there was universal support for a funding formula rewrite, it would be difficult because technical changes to Idaho law would be required.

But there isn’t universal support.

Several Idaho superintendents said the formula creates winners and losers by redistributing money — some school districts would expect to see their funding go up, while other districts are bracing for cuts.

Add to that volatile mix the fact the interim committee left several details unresolved in its proposal — including how to define full-time and fractional enrollment, how to deal with student mobility, the value of specific funding “weights” that would be applied to the formula and how to define at-risk students.

That, plus all the other education debates that could be on tap for this session — from teacher pay levels to scholarships to higher education funding to literacy, the 60 percent education goal, to early childhood education — adds up to the wild ride Kerby asked the committee to prepare.

Before the committee tackles those issues, it will wade into the administrative rules review process, beginning Wednesday. In past years, the rules process has been controversial. Both the Idaho Core Standards and science standards came forward as rules.

But Kerby doesn’t anticipate as much of a workload with rules this year.

“We do not have as many rules this year,” he said.

State Superintendent Sherri Ybarra, left, meets with Rep. Dorothy Moon and other members of the House Education Committee on Tuesday.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra also used Tuesday’s first meeting as a chance to bolster relations with lawmakers. Ybarra told lawmakers that her only son is in his senior year of high school and preparing to go on to college and she is working on her doctorate.

Ybarra is also beginning to schedule meetings with committee members. On Thursday, she has a 12:30 p.m. meeting scheduled with Kerby and new House Education Committee Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls.

“I’m looking forward to sitting down with everybody,” Ybarra said.

JFAC begins work

Legislative budget-writers got their first look at Gov. Brad Little’s budget proposal Tuesday morning.

And if the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee meeting is any indication, Medicaid expansion could be the trickiest budget question of 2019.

Lawmakers dug into Little’s plan to enact the Medicaid expansion initiative, approved by voters in November. Little says the state can expand Medicaid in January 2020, and find its $20 million share of the costs without dipping into the state’s general fund budget. That’s important, potentially, because some critics have said the Medicaid expansion will increase the competition for general fund dollars — and threaten funding for education.

Little has proposed a $106 million increase for K-12, a 5.9 percent increase, and an additional $8.5 million for higher education, which translates to 2.9 percent increase. The budget would add $13.2 million for programs designed to get third-graders reading at grade level; an $11.2 million line item that would boost Idaho’s minimum teacher salary to $40,000; and $7 million for Idaho’s Opportunity Scholarship program.

JFAC hearing schedule

The budget committee will begin working through agency budget requests this week.

But for K-12 and higher education, the big hearings will begin on Jan. 21. That’s “Education Week” at the Legislature, and at JFAC.

The Education Week hearing schedule:

  • Jan. 21: State Board of Education; College of Southern Idaho; North Idaho College; College of Western Idaho; College of Eastern Idaho.
  • Jan. 22: Idaho State University; Lewis-Clark State College.
  • Jan. 23: University of Idaho.
  • Jan. 24: State superintendent Sherri Ybarra will present her K-12 budget proposal.
  • Jan. 25: Boise State University.

Other budget presentations of note: Gov. Brad Little’s STEM Action Center will go before JFAC on Jan. 14; and the state’s career-technical education division goes before the committee on Jan. 17.

JFAC is scheduled to begin setting 2019-20 budgets on Feb. 15.

Idaho Education News senior reporter Kevin Richert contributed to this report.

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