House upholds veto of reading test bill

(UPDATED, 4:53 p.m., with comments from VanOrden.)

After two lengthy Republican caucuses — and, ultimately, without any debate — the House upheld Gov. Butch Otter’s first veto of the 2018 legislative session.

On a 29-34 vote, the House rejected an attempt to override Otter’s Monday veto of House Bill 501. The vote wasn’t very close — the override bid needed 42 yes votes from the 63 House members on the floor Tuesday afternoon. The vote also was anticlimactic, after a day punctuated by closed-door meetings and recesses.

Tuesday’s vote also represented a significant reversal. HB 501 passed the House on March 7 on a 66-1 vote, and later passed the Senate on a one-sided 24-9 vote.

The bill would have deleted the Idaho Reading Indicator from the battery of metrics that are used to measure student growth and improvement — and, ultimately, to determine whether teachers can qualify for a pay raise.

“With the fiscal 2019 appropriations set, Idaho will have invested more than 75 percent of the $250 million earmarked for teacher pay based on the career ladder,” Otter wrote Monday. “We must continue allowing accountability to work.”

But after Tuesday afternoon’s vote, House Education Committee Chairwoman Julie VanOrden said she remained concerned about using a reading test as a metric to determine teacher pay raises.

For nearly 20 years, the state has used some form of the IRI to assess kindergartners through third-graders. The short test is designed to be a screener — identifying students who are at risk in falling behind in reading.

But the state is replacing the IRI with a new statewide reading test, over the objections of VanOrden and other key legislators. VanOrden says the new test is designed to screen students and measure growth — but she says it will be difficult to break out the two elements of the test, and effectively use the growth data to award pay raises.

For much of the day, HB 501 hung in limbo. After an hour-long Republican caucus, the House briefly went back into session Tuesday morning, to award Idaho state flags to the 11 House members who are either retiring or seeking higher office.

House Republicans and Democrats held closed-door caucuses at 3 p.m. The second GOP caucus lasted about an hour, delaying the start of the 3:30 afternoon session. When the House reconvened, the session lasted barely 10 minutes — enough time to uphold the governor’s veto.

The Senate also was in a holding pattern Tuesday, while waiting on the House’s action. Senators met for only 10 minutes Tuesday morning, and briefly went into session Tuesday afternoon.

The Legislature essentially finished its work Thursday, sending its final bills to Otter’s desk. Lawmakers are staying in Boise while they await Otter’s actions — which gives them the option of trying to override any late-session vetoes.

The 2018 Legislature could adjourn for the year by Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder told Senate colleagues Tuesday morning.

The Senate is scheduled to go into session at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday; the House will follow at 3 p.m.

How they voted

The roll call on Tuesday’s failed override:

Republicans for (28): Anderson, Barbieri, Bedke, Boyle, Burtenshaw, Chaney, Collins, Crane, Dayley, Ehardt, Gestrin, Giddings, Hanks, Holtzclaw, Horman, Kingsley, Miller, Monks, Moon, Nate, Palmer, Scott, Shepherd, VanOrden, Vander Woude, Youngblood, Zito, Zollinger.

Democrats for (1): McCrostie.

Republicans against (26): Amador, Anderst, Armstrong, Bell, Blanksma, Cheatham, Clow, Dixon, Gibbs, Harris, Hartgen, Kauffman, Kerby, Loertscher, Luker, Manwaring, McDonald, Mendive, Moyle, Perry, Raybould, Redman, Stevenson, Syme, Thompson, Wood.

Democrats against (8): Chew, Erpelding, Gannon (17), King, Kloc, Smith, Toone, Wintrow.

Absent (7): DeMordaunt, Gannon (5), Malek, Packer, Rubel, Troy, Wagoner.

Otter objects, in part, to education budget

In another dustup between the governor and the Legislature, Otter voiced his displeasure with an $11 million chunk of the K-12 budget.

On Monday, Otter allowed Senate Bill 1349 to become law without his signature. This is one of the seven K-12 budget bills, allocating $632.4 million of taxpayer money for school operations.

In particular, Otter objected to $11.2 million to boost discretionary or “operational” spending for schools. Otter wanted to hold the line on discretionary spending, freezing this spending at $26,748 per classroom. State superintendent Sherri Ybarra sought an increase, specifically to cover rising insurance costs, and schools will now receive $27,481 per classroom.

Otter lamented that the budget bill was structured in a way that he could not use his line-item veto authority to target the $11.2 million.

“I am not suggesting that anyone ran roughshod over the Idaho Constitution,” Otter wrote in a letter explaining his action. “However, I sincerely hope that legislative budget writers in the future will remember the governor’s constitutional role as they assemble complex and multifaceted appropriations bills.”

Senators, who approved this budget bill on a 34-1 vote, seemed unmoved.

Sen. Jeff Agenbroad sought — and received — the Senate’s consent to file Otter’s message instead of having it read aloud during the Tuesday morning session, Betsy Russell of the Spokane Spokesman-Review reported. “It’s my understanding that we’ve budgeted in this manner for the last 45 years,” said Agenbroad, R-Nampa.

Funding formula committee hires help

The Legislature has a $248,450 plan to get help rewriting its school funding formula.

Meeting in between floor sessions Tuesday, the Legislature’s Public School Funding Formula Committee hired a consultant for its summer work, the Education Commission of the States, a Denver-based nonprofit.

The consultant and the 10-member House-Senate committee will spend the off-season updating the formula the state uses to carve up K-12 dollars. The state hasn’t rewritten this complicated formula since 1994, and the legislative committee has spent the past two summers studying the current model. The committee is expected to make recommendations to the 2019 Legislature.

One emphasis in the coming months will be to take the proposal out into the field. Winder, the committee’s Senate co-chair, warned against a repeat of the controversy surrounding then-state superintendent Tom Luna’s education overhaul from 2011. “We learned you can’t push it from the top down.”

Nearly half of the money will go toward a series of meetings: five field hearings across the state, and four committee hearings in Boise. The lawmakers are scheduled to meet again on April 17.

The committee has $300,000 to spend on a consultant, carryover money approved from the 2017 session.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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