A bill designed to phase out budget flexibility for school districts sailed through the Idaho House on Tuesday without opposition.
Representatives voted 68-0 to pass House Bill 557, which was pushed by House Education Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle.
DeMordaunt’s bill deals with “use it or lose it” funding the state sends school districts to hire teachers. In response to the Great Recession, lawmakers allowed districts to use a portion of that money to pay for other needs as budgets were cut. That flexibility allowed district leaders to – if they wished – hire 9.5 percent fewer teachers than they received funding for.
DeMordaunt’s bill would extend the program for another year – through the 2014-15 school year. Beginning in fiscal year 2016, 1 percent of that 9.5 flexibility would phased out each year for districts where the average class size is at least one student larger than the statewide average.
If class sizes were smaller than the state average, that legislative “trigger” would not kick in.
DeMordaunt said the purpose behind the bill is to make class sizes more manageable by gradually making districts use their salary money to hire a full load of teachers.
“Now that we have the opportunity to put money back into our school system… we want to make sure those teachers are there for our kids,” DeMordaunt said.
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After the bill was introduced, leaders of the Idaho Education Association teachers union said the legislation is flawed and the flexibility program should be extended for one year while class size data is collected and studied.
As of now, the state does not collect, or analyze the type of class size data that is central to this bill, State Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath told Idaho Education News last week.
However, the IEA is pushing a bill that would require the state to collect that data next year.
Several administrators from the Bonneville Joint School District also expressed concerns about a lack of data and the implications for their district.
“As a district administrator, I would really like to have them gather data I think is necessary so we can see where we fall and where small districts fall so we can see what effect there will be, then make the determination if they need legislation,” Bonneville Deputy Superintendent Marjean McConnell said.
The three Bonneville administrators interviewed by Idaho Ed News said they did not want to oppose the bill, because if it fails “use it or lose it” flexibility would end outright this year.
Instead they would like to see the bill amended so that budget flexibility continues for a year as data is gathered.
No lawmakers mentioned the lack of class size data as they debated the bill Tuesday.
However, DeMordaunt said school district officials still reeling from the recession and budget cuts would face hardships if the budget flexibility immediately went away – which is why he advocated the phased approach.
“That would be a traumatic impact on our schools,” DeMordaunt said.
The bill heads to the Senate Education Committee next.