Idaho House passes private school scholarship bill

A bill to create new state scholarships for use in private schools passed the Idaho House Monday morning.

Representatives voted 39-31 to pass House Bill 590 over the objections of the State Board of Education, Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra and major education groups including the Idaho Education Association, the Idaho Association of School Administrators, the PTA and the Idaho School Boards Association.

Rep. John Vander Woude

Sponsoring Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, said the bill is aimed at providing options for parents of disadvantaged and special-needs students. Vander Woude said many special needs and at-risk students would thrive in a private school setting with fewer students and smaller classes, but parents cannot afford the tuition.

“We provide a lot (of programs) for smart kids,” Vander Woude said. “These are all really good programs, but what are we doing for the at-risk kids? What are we doing for the kids that are struggling?”

Special needs and at-risk students, as well as students coming from poverty or a military family, would be able to use the scholarship for tuition at a private school, a private online school, tutoring, testing and more.

“This opens up some opportunities for some children who do not currently have them,” said Rep. Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene.

If the bill is signed, no state general fund dollars would support the scholarships. But opponents argue the private school scholarships would still drain state resources that could otherwise be used for public schools. Vander Woude has said he would push for state tax credits for scholarship donors, a move that has drawn opposition from the IEA, IASA, and ISBA.

Furthermore, the State Board would play an oversight role, which rankled some legislators.

“It essentially creates a scholarship entity that will be quasi-supervised by the State Board of Education, which is not a role the State Board of Education generally has taken in the past,” said Rep. Paul Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene. “It creates government intrusion in the private sector market.”

On Friday, the State Board came out in unanimous opposition to the bill.

Some opponents have questioned why the state would create an incentive for parents to pull their children out of public schools — because some private schools do not offer bus transportation services, and are not required to offer programs or accept federal money for special needs students.

Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, said the bill creates winners and losers because many private schools are situated near population centers such as the Treasure Valley, and are not widely available in rural areas.

“Unfortunately, this is not equitable for all our students,” Toone said.

Twenty House Republicans joined the chamber’s 11 Democrats in opposing the bill. No Democrats supported the bill, but the 39 Republicans who supported it were enough to pass it.

HB 590 next heads to the Senate, where it will likely be assigned to the Senate Education Committee. Senate Education Chairman Dean Mortimer said he anticipates holding a hearing on the bill, but no date has been set.

How they voted:

Republicans voting yes (39): Anderst, Armstrong, Barbieri, Bedke, Boyle, Burtenshaw, Chaney, Cheatham, Clow, Collins, Crane, Dayley, DeMordaunt, Dixon, Ehardt, Gestrin, Hanks, Harris, Hartgen, Hortzclaw, Horman, Kingsley, Malek, Mendive, Monks, Moon, Moyle, Nate, Palmer, Raybould, Redman, Scott, Shepherd, Thompson, VanOrden, Vader Woude, Youngblood, Zito, Zollinger.

Democrats voting yes (0).

Republicans voting no (20): Amador, Anderson, Bell, Blanksma, Gibbs, Giddings, Kauffman, Kerby, Loertscher, Luker, Manwaring, McDonald, Miller, Packer, Perry, Stevenson, Syme, Troy, Wagoner, Wood.

Democrats voting no (11): Chew, Erpelding, Gannon (17), Gannon (5), King, Kloc, McCrostie, Rubel, Smith, Toone, Wintrow.

Measures of student achievement

The House Education Committee passed a bill to remove the Idaho Reading Indicator as a measure of student growth used to calculate raises.

Pushed by Chairwoman Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, House Bill 501 addresses assessment tools used to calculate student achievement and growth. The 2015 career ladder salary law requires that student achievement be a factor in a teacher’s ability to earn a pay raise.

VanOrden’s bill would remove the Idaho Reading Indicator, a diagnostic tool used in K-3 classrooms, from the list of 12 recognized assessments used to measure student growth.

After meeting with educators, VanOrden said she believes the test is most appropriately used proactively as a screener or diagnostic test to identify potential literacy problems — not to measure student achievement or effective teaching.

“(Educators) use the results to assist in identification of student needs and early reading intervention,” VanOrden said. “Using the test to evaluate teacher performance conflicts directly with identifying children at risk for reading problems.”

Nobody debated or testified against passing the bill.

HB 501 next heads to the House floor with a recommendation it pass.

Rural loan forgiveness

A bill to forgive some loan debt for rural teachers may be dead for the session.

During Monday’s House floor session, VanOrden pulled House Bill 504 back to committee, potentially killing the bill for the year.

Toone proposed the bill as an incentive for young teachers to take jobs in small, rural districts. If passed, the bill would provide 500 eligible rural teachers with $3,000 a year in loan forgiveness, for up to four years.

House Education had sent the bill out for amendments, but Toone requested it instead be sent back to committee, VanOrden said.

Monday was the deadline to send House bills to the Senate, so Toone’s bill will now likely die in committee.

Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert contributed to this report.

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