Education news roundup: Thursday, March 6

Broadband funding. The support was, at best, tepid.

“This stinks, but this is something we have to do,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene.

But the vote was unanimous.

On a 35-0 vote, the Senate approved a $6.6 million spending bill to keep the Idaho Education Network high school broadband system afloat through June 30.

The money is needed since three-fourths of the network’s funding is in limbo. The network’s “e-rate” payments, collected from cell phone and landline bills, has been on hold for a year, while a Federal Communications Commission contractor reviews the Idaho Education Network’s 2009 contract.

Lawmakers have criticized the state Department of Administration for keeping them in the dark about the delays in e-rate payments — and for quietly renewing the 2009 contract without letting them know. Both criticisms resurfaced on the Senate floor.

But Senate Finance Committee Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said the state is legally obligated to cover network costs for the rest of the state budget year. Cutting off funding would not necessarily hurt the Administration Department or its contractor, Education Networks of America, but it would hurt the 90,000 students now using the network.

The $6.6 million bill passed the House next week, and now goes to Gov. Butch Otter, who has voiced support for it. Still unresolved is Otter’s request for $7.3 million for the network for 2014-15; budget-writers have not acted on this request.

Leadership premiums. Also on its way to the governor’s desk, after another 35-0 Senate vote, is House Bill 504, establishing teacher leadership “premiums.”

The $15.8 million premiums are seen as the first step in creating a teacher career ladder program, a $250 million proposal from Otter’s education reform task force.

Teachers could receive premiums of $850 to $5,780 for a variety of functions — such as mentoring fellow teachers, teaching in multiple disciplines or taking hard-to-fill jobs.

Agriculture grants. Teenager Alyssa Stastny was one of six speakers who helped convince the House Education Committee to advance legislation supporting agriculture education in public schools.

Stastny is the state secretary of the Future Farmers of America and a freshman at BYU-Idaho from Kimberly. She eloquently spoke — without notes — about what agriculture education did for her, including growing her love of horticulture, her college major.

She started FFA in high school because she wanted to show her pigs. She soon discovered the vast offerings that align with agriculture studies, leadership development and career preparation.

“It’s had such a great impact in my life,” Stastny said. “There is great potential in impacting other lives so it’s important to grow the opportunities to meet the changing needs of the students coming into the program.”

The committee unanimously passed to the House floor Senate Bill 1275, a bill that would create a competitive grant program for improvements to technology or equipment in agriculture-related class offerings. It’s an incentive grant, with no mandatory requirements. The grants would be funded partly with private donations.

About 12,000 students are enrolled in K-12 agriculture programs and 4,000 are FFA students.

Workforce training. House Education Committee members unanimously approved a resolution to create a committee to study the needs of Idaho’s workforce and how those needs relate to training.

The legislation will require the Department of Labor, the Department of Commerce and the State Board of Education to form an advisory group to collaborate with businesses and educators. This group would make policy and legislative recommendations. The long-term plan is to tie workforce needs to the education system.

Jeff Sayer, director of the Department of Commerce, and Kenneth Edmunds, director of the Department of Labor, both testified in support of the resolution.

“The single most important thing we can do for the economy is create talent pipelines for our industries,” Sayer said.

Dual credit opportunities. Another bill that passed House Education with unanimous consent will increase funding for dual credit course offerings.

Sen. Steven Thayn’s Senate Bill 1233aa now heads to the House floor. The bill offers college scholarship money to students who graduate early and covers partial costs of dual credits in professional technical certification programs. The bill also offers financial assistance to students who take online summer classes, provided the summer course work is advanced and not remediation.

“We spend millions on students who struggle — special education, low income, remediation — but we do very little for students who excel or are who bored and need challenges,” said Jason Hancock, deputy chief of staff for the Idaho State Department of Education testifying in support of the bill.

Thayn, R-Emmett, told committee members the legislation could cost the state as much as $3 million but it depends on how many students qualify and take advantage of the new program.

School safety. A bill requiring schools to have safety plans with the intent to promote uniformity between districts and city, county and state emergency responders passed House Education.

The bill also allows schools to use revenue from cigarette taxes for school safety efforts instead of only using the money to test students for substance abuse.

“It’s a better and more wise use of public funds,” said the bill’s presenter Rep. Patrick McDonald, R-Boise.

Parental rights. A parental rights bill pushed by an eastern Idaho lawmaker cleared the House 64-5 on Thursday.

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Rep. Janet Trujillo, R-Idaho Falls

House Bill 567 represents an ongoing effort by Rep. Janet Trujillo, R-Idaho Falls, to codify parents’ rights relating to education into Idaho law.

Trujillo stressed that her intention is promote parental involvement in children’s education and strengthen the school system.

Several lawmakers asked questions about the bill, including how it would affect rights of grandparents or spouses who separated.

Rep. Illana Rubel, D-Boise, questioned why the bill was necessary and whether it would allow parents to complete a student’s homework or feed answers to a child in the process of taking a test.

The bill states, in part: “It is the public policy of this state that parents retain the fundamental right and duty to exercise primary control over the care, supervision and upbringing of their children.”

Trujillo said the bill does not allow parents to pull their children out of standardized assessments or not participate in classes aligned to Idaho Core Standards.

“This is not an opt-out statute,” Trujillo said, responding to lawmakers’ questions.

Trujillo had previously introduced a lengthier bill, which was shelved.

The legislation moves next to the Senate.