UPDATED: House Ed passes charter school bill after agenda discrepancy

(Updated, 11 a.m., 2.23.18 to reflect that Rep. Julie VanOrden pulled the bill back to committee in order to post proper notice for a hearing on HB 566 and conduct another vote).

Following three days of debate, the House Education Committee voted Thursday to pass a bill that would allow charter schools to hire people who don’t have an education background or traditional administrator’s certificate to serve as their leaders.

Thursday’s House Education Committee agenda (click the image to enlarge it).

But legal questions may follow the vote. The official agenda for Thursday’s meeting indicated House Education would vote on just one bill — House Bill 556. That’s not the bill the committee considered or voted on. Instead the committee voted on HB 566.

The Idaho Open Meeting Law requires public agencies and governing bodies to post advance notice of official meetings and publish an agenda that spells out any business or action that will be taken during a meeting. The law allows for public officials to amend an agenda after the meeting has started “upon a motion that states the reason for the amendment and states the good faith reason the agenda item was not included in the original agenda posting.”

That didn’t happen though.

Immediately after the vote, a reporter from Idaho Education News brought the issue to the attention of Chairwoman Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree. VanOrden confirmed that she did not amend the agenda to identify the correct bill. The committee’s secretary said the discrepancy was due to a typographical error, and VanOrden said she would look at the issue and may bring it back up again on Friday.

A day later, on Friday, VanOrden puled HB 566 back from the House floor to the House Education Committee. She explained the error with the agenda and said she wants to post proper notice of the hearing for the correct bill, and have the committee vote again.

As for the bill itself, HB 566 would create a new charter school administrator’s certificate that would allow charters to hire professionals who do not possess that same certificate that public school administrators are required to earn. Under the new bill, people would be eligible for a charter administrator’s certificate if they meet the requirements of passing a criminal background check, holding a bachelor’s degree and completing a three-credit course in teacher evaluations. If the bill is signed into law, charter administrators would not be required to have teaching experience or any experience and familiarity with educational content and curriculum, testing, instructional practices or educational leadership.

Supporters of the bill said that charters were founded to be innovative and explore new concepts and need the flexibility in order make effective hires.

Opponents of the bill say it waters down expectations for charter school leaders and creates a different set of rules for traditional public school administrators and administrators of charter schools, which are still public schools.

Bill Russell, chairman of the Idaho Charter School Network board of trustees, said charter schools have different financial realities than public schools because they cannot bring a revenue bond before patrons to raise funds for facilities. As such, Russell argued charters have unique needs and may require applicants possess a different set of skills.

Harold Ott, a longtime public school administrator and director of the Idaho Rural School Association, said he has hired more than 100 school administrators over his career and knows firsthand how important educational experience and leadership are.

“There are no references in here to have educational expertise or knowledge in any other areas, period,” Ott said. “I have major heartburn over that. I want students to have the best leaders.”

Ott said he and Idaho Association of School Administrators executive director Rob Winslow met with public school and charter school leaders in each of the six regions of Idaho over the past week and a half and “there was zero support for this bill.”

On Monday, Future Charter School co-founder Brad Petersen told the House Education Committee that passing the bill was important because it would allow charter school boards to hire from a more diverse candidate pool.

Thursday’s vote came in 9-6 in favor of sending the bill to the House floor with a recommendation it pass. Republican Reps. Paul Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene, Scott Syme, R-Caldwell, and Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth joined the committee’s three Democrats in opposing the bill. The remaining Republicans supported it, with the exception of Twin Falls Rep. Lance Clow, who attended Thursday’s meeting but left before the vote was called.

Sex education bill pulled for revisions

In other action Thursday, VanOrden pulled a bill aimed at updating Idaho’s sex education laws back off the House floor, where it was awaiting amendments.

VanOrden worked with a Boise State University student to draft House Bill 579 and attempt to align Idaho’s more modern health education standards with a 1970-era sex education law.

VanOrden said more revisions to the bill are needed. It’s unclear where the proposal stands now. Pulling a bill off the floor often signals the bill is dead for the session. But House Education is considered a privileged committee, and has the power to introduce new bills late into the legislative session, which leaves the possibility open that a rewritten sex education bill may still surface.

Scholarship bill advances

On Thursday afternoon, the Senate Education Committee advanced Gov. Butch Otter’s proposal to put scholarship dollars in the hands of older Idahoans looking to return to college.

Committee members voted to approve Senate Bill 1279, which would allow students with some college credit but no degree to apply for the popular Idaho Opportunity Scholarship.

The bill basically merges Otter’s oft-proposed adult completers scholarship with the existing Idaho Opportunity Scholarship by allowing up to 20 percent of the funding to go to older students retuning to school.

Lawmakers have questioned why the state would expand the Opportunity Scholarship to more recipients if current funding levels aren’t enough to meet existing demand among high school graduates looking to go on. State Board of Education executive director Matt Freeman has said there is a wait list of about 2,400 eligible students today, even before the expansion.

Vice Chairman Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, expressed concerns about funding and demand for the scholarship. But he said the state needs to be open to a variety of solutions if it wants to realize its goal of seeing 60 percent of young adults hold some type of college degree or postsecondary certificate by 2025.

“The State Board of Education has made the point that in order to reach our 60 percent goal, we’re going to have to reach out to some of these students over 25,” Thayn said.

Sen. Lori DenHartog, R-Meridian, was the only legislator to vote against the bill.

SB 1279 next heads to the Senate floor with a recommendation it pass.

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