Legislative roundup, 3.12.15

Rep. Judy Boyle is bringing a new bill to create a program to help children with math and reading skills before they enter kindergarten.

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Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale

The House Education Committee voted Thursday to introduce legislation to create an “at-home school readiness program.”

The idea is based on a Utah program, and would provide home-based, computer-assisted instruction to children in regions of the state where students perform poorly on the kindergarten Idaho Reading Indicator assessments.

Boyle said she was working on the bill because two schools in her legislative district post low kindergarten reading scores.

Emily McClure, a lobbyist representing a Utah-based interactive training center called the Waterford Institute, backed the bill and said her client is interested in working in Idaho.

Backers of the bill emphasized that the pilot program is not a preschool program and would benefit families by being based out of their homes.

Funding for the program is not included in Gov. Butch Otter’s budget request for next year, but the bill contains a request for funding, which was estimated at $866 per child who participates.

In other Statehouse news:

Campaign finance. The Senate passed a bill that would require school board candidates to file campaign finance reports — similar to the sunshine reports required for legislative and county candidates.

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Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene

Sen. Mary Souza’s bill has undergone a bit of a makeover since it passed in committee. If it becomes law this session, it would no longer go into effect for this May’s trustee elections. And the bill would no longer apply to candidates in school districts with fewer than 500 students.

Sen. Dan Schmidt argued against the bill — saying his hometown Moscow School District hasn’t had a contested trustee election in 10 to 15 years, and saying volunteer trustees face a burdensome enough job. “I’m not sure how transparency eases that burden.”

With the Senate’s 24-11 vote, Senate Bill 1072 heads to the House.

School funding formula. The Senate Education Committee gave its go-ahead to a bill designed to provide $1.7 million to schools that experience a boost in enrollment over the academic year.

Boyle’s House Bill 126 would allow districts to collect salary-based apportionment based on their best 28 weeks of attendance. State law now distributes this money based on the first 10 weeks of the school year.

Boyle has said this hurts some virtual, charter and public schools — and on Wednesday, she brought in parents, school administrators and students to make that case.

Karen Echeverria of the Idaho School Boards Association urged the committee to hold the bill. Gov. Butch Otter’s education task force has recognized the funding issue, she said, and a task force working group is writing a bill for 2016.

Kelly Edginton — the head of school for the Idaho Virtual Academy, the state’s largest charter school — urged the Legislature to act now. “We’ve gone another year now, and now next year, a bill is coming forth.”

Senate Education agreed, and gave the bill its unanimous support. If it passes the full Senate, the bill will go to Otter’s desk.

Clark Corbin and Kevin Richert contributed to this report.

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