Budget-writers boost Idaho scholarship program

Gov. Butch Otter got a $5 million win, as legislative budget-writers endorsed his proposal to boost a state college scholarship program.

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee earmarked a $5 million increase in Idaho’s Opportunity Scholarship, as part of a State Board of Education budget endorsed Thursday morning.

The State Board has been making a concerted and sobering push for the scholarship increase. In a Jan. 29 JFAC presentation, State Board executive director Matt Freeman said some high school guidance counselors have been telling eligible students not to bother applying for the scholarships, since the money probably wouldn’t be available.

In 2015-16, 4,017 students were eligible for the Opportunity Scholarship. However, the state awarded only 1,158 new scholarships and 742 renewals. A $5 million increase is expected to cover an additional 1,700 scholarships of up to $3,000 per year.

JFAC’s approval is only the first step in the budgeting process. The State Board budget still must pass the House and the Senate before going to Gov. Butch Otter’s desk. Generally, JFAC budgets pass both houses, often with little or no opposition.

But the $5 million plan sparked some debate in JFAC. Budget-writers turned down two competing proposals. Rep. Steve Miller, R-Fairfield, proposed a $3 million increase. Reps. John Gannon and Phylis King, both D-Boise, proposed a $10 million increase. (More from Thursday’s JFAC meeting from Betsy Russell of the Spokane Spokesman-Review.)

In other Statehouse action Thursday:

Teacher contracts. The House Education Committee Thursday introduced a rewritten contracts bill designed to cover teachers who take on extra assignments.

The new bill still allows school districts to issue separate extra duty contracts for work that teachers complete above and beyond standard contracts. Teachers would be paid at the same daily rate outlined in their standard contracts.

But the Idaho School Boards Association made changes designed to win the support of agriculture teachers, who objected to the original version of the bill, which was shelved earlier this month.

“Everyone is in agreement on this new piece of legislation,” ISBA government affairs director Jessica Harrison said.

Harrison said the new bill is needed because Idaho law does not differentiate between the standard teaching contract and work completed during extra duty assignments.

The rewritten bill still says no property rights are attached to extra duty contracts. In other words, the extra work assignments will not automatically roll forward in a new contract from year to year. But the rewritten bill says educators may request an informal review if local trustees do not reissue an extra duty contract.

Extra duty contracts cover teachers who report to work before or after their contracted calendar days or teach during the summer.

The bill is expected to return to House Education for a full hearing.

Teacher evaluations. House Education passed a bill to move back the deadline for completing annual written teacher evaluations.

House Bill 515 moves the deadline back from May 1 to June 1, with supporters saying the extra 30 days will allow more of a chance to factor Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test results into evaluations.

Last year, SBAC results were delayed, Many schools did not receive results in time to use them in evaluations.

The bill also requires that written evaluations must be completed prior to issuing teachers a new contract each year.

Troy New
Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee

The bill would allow districts to use other, objective student achievement measures in place of SBAC, if test results are not available at the evaluation deadline.

Sponsoring Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, described the proposal as “a common-sense bill” that originated from her North Idaho school district.

Nobody voiced opposition to the bill during the hearing.

The bill next heads to the House floor for consideration.

Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert contributed to this report.