Legislative roundup, 3.17.15: SBAC opt-out bill derailed

The House Education Committee killed a bill Tuesday designed to let parents opt students out of upcoming Common Core-aligned tests.

This spring, students will be graded for the first time on the official Idaho Standards Achievement Test by Smarter Balanced. Senate Bill 1070 states, in part, that “the student, with parent or guardian approval, may, in lieu of such test, choose an alternative route to meet this requirement.” The change would have gone into effect in 2015-16.

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Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian

Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian, pitched the bill after saying parents in his district were anxious about standardized testing, concerned about a high-stakes assessment and discussed “some talk about a U.N. takeover, or whatnot.”

Lawmakers were hung up on the alternative assessment language. Under state rules, alternative assessments are offered, but are traditionally given to students with limited English-speaking abilities or learning disabilities, or students who are unable to pass the conventional test.

Several lawmakers said students who opt out of the SBAC would be given an inappropriate test that would not accurately reflect whether they are ready to graduate.

New Plymouth Republican Rep. Ryan Kerby, superintendent of his local school district, led opposition to the bill – even though he liked its concept.

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Rep. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth

“Those alternative routes are set so low that regular kids could pass it probably in the eighth grade,” Kerby said. “This is no measure whatsoever of what we expect a kid to know when they left school to be college and career ready.”

Kerby said it did not appear that the bill had been properly vetted or that education groups bought in. Other lawmakers stressed the move could lead to confusion, and said the opt-out language was problematic and vague. Kerby even wondered if the bill would force students who opt out to complete remedial coursework.

Harris argued that a parent or child would not choose the alternative course — even though the bill said the contrary.

A group of parents – one wearing a button reading “Refuse the SBAC” – turned out to support the bill, saying it would give them freedom and allay their concerns about high-stakes tests.

An official vote was not recorded, but it appeared to fail 6-4 following an informal show of hands.

Reps. Patrick McDonald, R-Boise, Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, Terry Gestrin, R-Donnelly, and Harris supported the bill.

Reps. Kerby, Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, Hy Kloc, D-Boise, Donna Pence, D-Gooding, and Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, raised their hands in opposition. Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, did not appear to vote.

The bill was amended after Harris originally introduced it, but it had sailed through the Senate with unanimous support earlier this month. The proposal is now dead for the session.

In other Statehouse action Tuesday:

Tax credits. A bill that would extend a series of tax credits for schools, libraries and museums is headed to the Senate floor.

The Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee gave its unanimous go-ahead to House Bill 220, which would preserve the tax credits, passed in 2010. Individuals can now take a 50 percent credit up to $500, or $1,000 on a joint return. For companies, the 10 percent tax credit maxes out at $5,000.

If the Legislature doesn’t act this year, the tax credits will drop significantly.

Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, said he has been reluctant to consider tax credits until the Legislature addresses significant education and transportation issues — but pointed out that the credits support entities that the state would have to fund anyway. “We are getting a huge bang for the buck by doing this.”

House Bill 220 has already passed the House easily.

Foreign exchange students. House Education swiftly advanced a bill designed to allow foreign exchange students to participate in dual credit courses alongside traditional students.

Current law forbids the practice. VanOrden, the bill’s sponsor, said many districts allow foreign exchange students to take such courses. Her bill would align Idaho law with those practices.

The bill next heads to the House floor.

Counseling. House Education introduced a new, slightly modified version of a counseling bill.

Pushed by Marilyn Whitney, Gov. Butch Otter’s education liaison, the bill highlights appropriate activities for counselors and defines the role of guidance counselors.

The legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Performance Evaluations recommended increasing counselors in report published in 2012.

The new bill clarifies that it is up to the budget-setting Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee to decide to fund the program. The old bill supported Otter’s $2.5 million funding recommendation.

Coming Wednesday. House Education has a full schedule awaiting Wednesday. First up, lawmakers will consider a second version of a teacher salary career ladder proposal. Last week, DeMordaunt shelved the first $125 million career ladder plan after numerous teachers and members of both political parties expressed concerns. Next year’s public school budget, as well as adjournment of the legislative session, have been put off until something is worked out on teacher salaries.

Whitney is scheduled to brief lawmakers on the draft legislation.

Then the committee is scheduled to conduct a hearing on anti-bullying legislation. The meeting will begin at 8 a.m. inside the Lincoln Auditorium inside the Statehouse basement. Rubel is pushing the bullying bill.

Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News contributed to this report.

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