Education news roundup: Friday, March 14

Funding formula. Following a lengthy debate, the House passed a school funding bill that has drawn opposition from several education groups.

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Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale

Representatives voted 41-27 to pass House Bill 579, pushed by Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale.

For the purposes of calculating state funding for teaching positions, Boyle’s bill would allow districts and charter schools to choose when student attendance figures are calculated – during the first 10 weeks of the school year, or during their best 28-week period. Teacher funding is now based on attendance figured during the first 10 weeks.

Boyle said alternative schools, virtual schools, charter schools and rural schools that experience volatile attendance numbers could benefit from the bill.

Boyle said her bill would especially benefit schools that experience enrollment increases throughout the year. “What we have here is unequal funding that does not follow the student.”

House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, also backed the bill. He called the bill a “safety net” for students who transfer schools within the academic year.

The Idaho School Boards Association and Idaho Rural Schools Association oppose the bill, saying it would likely lead to the state “double-funding” some students. It also represents an additional expense at a time when school funding still lags 2009 levels.

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Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley

The bill is estimated to cost the state $2.2 million – money not included in the public school budget set earlier this month. Neither Gov. Butch Otter nor Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna sought this funding.

“This is bad public policy, and I think it accentuates bad budgeting,” said Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley.

Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee Co-chairwoman Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, strongly debated against the bill.

“This is not in the budget,” Bell said. “We have broken the budget this year.”

Boyle said lawmakers would not need to alter the 2014-15 school budget to pay for her bill. Instead, she recommended dipping into the Public Education Stabilization Fund savings account next year.

It wasn’t clear Friday what will become of the bill, in the dying days of the legislative session. Normally, House-passed education bills are sent to the Senate Education Committee. Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said Thursday he does not have any additional committee meetings planned. If his committee does not meet, and if Boyle’s bill is not routed through an alternate committee, her bill would die when the session ends.

Lottery proceeds. A funny thing happened on the Senate’s way to passing House Bill 478, which would earmark one fourth of lottery proceeds for the state’s school building bond equalization fund.

At the close of a brief debate, the Senate went into a lengthy recess, then sidetracked the bill for possible amendment.

Orginally, lottery proceeds were split between state and school building projects. But for the past several years, the state has siphoned a quarter of lottery proceeds into the bond fund, with the rest split equally between brick-and-mortar work on state and school buildings. HB 478 would make the current formula permanent.

Without HB 478, say supporters, the state would need to put $12.5 million of tax money into the bond fund to keep it whole. Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, said the $12.5 million could be found elsewhere, and argued against making a permanent change in the formula.

If the Senate amends and passes HB 478, the bill would have to go back to the House for another vote in the session’s closing days. The House unanimously approved the original HB 478.

WiFi. The Senate unanimously supported a bill to pave the way for school districts to opt out of a state-operated WiFi system and build their own networks.

Senate Bill 1410 lays out the technical guidelines districts must meet if they want to go it alone — and receive $21 per student for WiFi systems.

The bill represents a step to dismantle, or at least scale back, the statewide WiFi system. Several lawmakers have criticized the multiyear state WiFi contract, funded for 2013-14 with a $2.25 million appropriation.

SB 1410 now goes to the House.

Tiered teacher licensure. State Superintendent Tom Luna has taken the helm of committee working to implement one recommendations from Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education.

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Tom Luna

Luna is chairman of the Idaho Tiered Licensure Technical Advisory Committee, a group of 18 officials and education stakeholders developing plans for three levels of teacher licenses.

Teacher licensure, and a related career ladder salary plan, are two  major task force recommendations that lawmakers mostly held off on addressing this year.

The licensure group began meeting in October, when members first discussed details surrounding the system, advancement and pay.

Former Luna deputy headed the group and the outset, but Quarles stepped down from the State Department in late January after Luna announced he will not seek a third term in office.

The licensure committee met for several hours Friday afternoon in Boise.

The committee is assigned to study licensure models and make recommendations to the Legislature, department or State Board of Education.

Group members have already outlined the basics of what a beginning teacher must accomplish to earn initial licensure and begin teaching children. Those include:

  • Earning a rating of “2” or better on all components of the state’s teacher evaluation framework.
  • Developing strategies for teaching Idaho Core Standards.
  • Effectively using educational data.
  • Providing evidence of student achievement.
  • Developing an individualized learning plan.
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Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise

Members used Friday’s meeting to debate the objectives a teacher must meet to move from the lowest tier to the middle tier. Proposals included requiring teachers to earn ratings of “3” or better on all aspects of their evaluation within three years, with opportunities for teachers to work with a mentor or continue adding to their skills if they don’t make it within the first three years.

Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, a Boise Democrat and former teacher, stressed that the rules for licensure must not be so restrictive that the system would repel educators. She also emphasized that higher teacher salaries must also be tied to the system for it to succeed.

“I want you to be very careful, we’re kind of walking a tightrope here,” Ward-Engelking said. “We don’t want so many hoops in place that we can’t get teachers here in Idaho. “

Committee members are scheduled to meet every month through May to finish researching the licensure system and develop formal recommendations.

Kevin Richert contributed to this report.

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