House Ed passes controversial funding bill

Members of the House Education Committee passed a school funding bill that opponents said could lead to the state paying for students twice.

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Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale

After a long debate Wednesday, committee members voted 9-5 to pass House Bill 579 and fast track it to the House floor.

Sponsor Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, said her bill will allow districts and charter schools to receive funding based on the best 28 weeks of attendance – not the first 10 weeks of the year, which is current practice. Boyle said her bill would benefit virtual schools, charter schools, alternative schools and rural schools that experience enrollment fluctuations throughout the year.

Several school officials and students from the Idaho Virtual Academy, Richard McKenna Public Charter School and the Canyon-Owyhee School Service Agency testified in favor of the bill.

Harold Nevill, COSSA’s director, said enrollment increases throughout the school year at his alternative school as students leave their original school or encounter a problem that leads to them joining COSSA. But because more students arrive after the initial funding calculations are complete, COSSA does not receive money for those late-arriving students.

“If we could pick the best 28 weeks, we might have as much as 30 percent more (funding for teachers) and that is a huge difference in a small alternative school,” he said.

But leaders of the Idaho School Boards Association and the Idaho Rural Schools Association opposed the bill.

Harold Ott of the rural schools group said he believes Idaho’s school funding formula needs to be reworked, but he stressed this bill is not the way to handle inequities.

Under the bill, Ott and Karen Echeverria of the Idaho School Boards Association said the original district and the school a student joins later in the year could both receive funding for that student.

“My concern in opposition to this bill is the double-dipping concept,” Ott told lawmakers. “Over the last seven years I have been told by numerous legislators and Department of Education (officials) we should not double pay for children.”

Boyle estimated the change in the funding formula would cost the state $2.2 million – money which was not included in the public school budget set earlier this month. Neither Gov. Butch Otter nor Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna requested the funding.

Idaho State Department of Education Deputy Chief of Staff Jason Hancock said lawmakers have several different options to pay for the program. Members of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee could call the public school budget back and recalculate it to include the $2.2 million. However, with lawmakers targeting March 21 as the adjournment date, altering the public school budget could, potentially, extend the legislative session.

Instead of that, Hancock suggested lawmakers could also take the extra money out of the Public Education Stabilization Fund savings account. That move would not likely require any additional action this session and would be unlikely to interfere with adjournment.

The bill next moves to the House floor.

Reps. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins, Boyle, Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, Terry Gestrin, R-Donnelly, Steven Harris, R-Meridian, Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene, Patrick McDonald, R-Boise and Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, voted yes.

Reps. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, Donna Pence, D-Gooding, Hy Kloc, D-Boise and Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, voted against the bill.