Education news roundup, Wednesday, Feb. 12

Ag education. It was blue jacket day at the Senate Education Committee Wednesday — as FFA students turned out to lobby for an increase in ag spending.

Macy Hagler, Senate Ed, 2.12.14
Macy Hagler, a Kuna High School junior, urges senators to boost ag education funding.

Kuna High School junior Macy Hagler said the program has focused her career aspirations, because she is learning about topics she can apply later in life. Even areas such as soil content have practical applications. “I can’t go anywhere without texturing dirt,” she said. “I never thought I’d be doing that.”

The students weren’t alone. Educators and business leaders also took to the podium to voice their support for Senate Bill 1275, which would plow about $600,000 into ag education programs.

The committee took no action on the bill, but will likely take it up again Monday.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, would put $504,000 into an incentive grant program, providing $10,000 grants for top-performing ag instructors. The remaining $100,000 would provide startup grants of up to $25,000 to allow school districts to start up or re-establish ag programs.

Ag education advocates say programs such as Future Farmers of America give students practical and leadership skills for college and the workplace. But they say the programs face an aging teaching force.

Labor bills. Three bills to extend teacher labor laws sailed through Senate Education — with no dissent and with consensus support.

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The bills are one-year extensions on laws requiring school districts to consider factors other than seniority, if they are required to reduce staff; eliminating “evergreen” contract clauses; and allowing school districts to reduce staff salaries.

The one-year extensions would restore sections of the Proposition 1 labor law rejected by voters in November 2012. But the extensions, presented by the Idaho School Boards Association, have widespread support from education groups.

Hiring spouses. Rep. Marc Gibbs was back Wednesday with a new bill that would allow rural school districts to hire the spouses of school trustees.

This time around, the language is tighter. A trustee with a spouse working for a school district would need to abstain from negotiations on salaries and benefits, and would need to abstain from any personnel discussions involving a spouse.

The idea is to allow smaller districts, with enrollment at or below 1,200, to draw from a deeper hiring pool. The relaxed hiring rules would also apply to charter schools in rural communities — if they are located within a school district with enrollment at or below 1,200.

Gibbs, R-Grace, said he has discussed the bill with charter school groups, but they are noncommittal.

The House Education Committee voted unanimously to introduce the bill, and it  could come back for a full hearing at a later date.

Fingerprint fees. House Education killed a bill to increase the price tag for fingerprint background checks for teachers.

The bill would have increased the fee from $40 to $47.50, and the State Department of Education said the bill would keep up with increased Idaho State Police fees for the checks.

Committee members questioned the increase, which essentially would be passed on to teachers. The bill died on a voice vote.

Budget hearing set. On Friday, Idahoans will get their chance to testify on any state budget-related issues.

From 8-10:30 a.m. members of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee will play host to public budget hearing in the Statehouse’s Lincoln Auditorium.

On Wednesday, members of JFAC set the revenue forecast for next year at nearly $3 billion, representing a 6.4 percent increase over this year.

JFAC leaders have not yet set any state budgets, so they will be able to take public comment issued during Friday’s hearing into the budget setting process.

The K-12 public schools budget accounts for about 47 percent of state spending, and is the largest expense in the state.

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