Legislative roundup, 3.16.15: Parental rights, knives and more

With no word yet on a rewritten teacher pay plan, the Senate kicked off the 10th week of the legislative session Monday by passing one of two bills designed to assert parental rights.

Senate Bill 1096 would allow parents and guardians to object to any school activity or learning material, “on the basis that it harms the child or impairs the parents’ firmly held beliefs.” School districts would need to establish a parental involvement policy — but most districts and charter schools already have such policies in place, as a condition of receiving federal Title 1 dollars.

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Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian

Fourteen states have similar laws on the books, sponsoring Sen. Lori Den Hartog said Monday, but Idaho code is silent on parental rights. “It is time to end the silence.”

Supporters agreed that the bill would encourage parental engagement. Opponents of both parties said the bill could create unnecessary conflict between parents and school officials — and force districts to spend scarce money tailoring lesson plans to individual students.

“This bill creates more problems,” said Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, a retired teacher and Boise Democrat.

With the Senate’s 23-12 vote, Senate Bill 1096 heads to the House for consideration. Meanwhile, a second and more far-reaching parental rights bill awaits a makeover on the Senate floor.

As it currently reads, House Bill 113 says parents and guardians “have a fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care, custody, education and control of their children.” It awaits amendment on the Senate floor — perhaps as early as Tuesday. But the amended bill would still need to pass the Senate, and then head back to the House for reconsideration.

In other legislative action Monday:

Knives. The Senate approved a bill that would preempt local governments from passing any law governing the “transportation, possession, carrying, sale, transfer, purchase, gift, devise, licensing, registration or use of a knife or knife-making components.”

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Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls

That language would extend not just to cities and counties, but to school districts as well.

Critics objected to extending this ban to schools — but the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Lee Heider, said the state should take the lead on the matter. “Quite frankly, the state should have primacy over schools,” Heider said, according to Betsy Russell of the Spokane Spokesman-Review. “If we don’t want children, whatever age, if we make it junior high, if we make it grade school, whatever, the state should be the one that writes the laws relative to children or young people or adolescents or even adults who carry knives, when they can carry them, where they can carry them.”

With the Senate’s 25-10 vote, Senate Bill 1092 now heads to the House.

Professional-technical education. The House Education Committee passed a bill designed to improve professional-technical education courses.

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Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett

Senate Bill 1086 calls for Idaho’s community colleges and universities to align their professional-technical programs in an effort to ensure dual credit courses earned in high school will transfer toward a college degree or certificate.

The bill is also designed to improve the availability of online professional-technical courses through the Idaho Digital Learning Academy.

Sen. Steven Thayn and Idaho Division of Professional-Technical Education Administrator Dwight Johnson pushed for the bill. They said now there are issues with courses transferring seamlessly. Dual credit courses sometimes transfer only as electives.

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Rep. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth

Rep. Ryan Kerby, superintendent of his local school district, praised the bill, saying rural administrators asked Johnson to increase online course offerings.

“We don’t have teachers out there (to offer all of these courses) and yet we need industry and we need kids to have an opportunity to train,” Kerby said. “This is going to help a lot of our rural areas.”

The bill passed unanimously on a voice vote, and heads to the House floor. It passed the Senate 34-0 earlier this month.

School funding protection. House Education introduced a bill to allow districts to opt out of an insurance program that protects districts that experience enrollment declines.

Under the 97 percent protection program, last adjusted in 2012, districts that lose more than 3 percent of their students from one year to the next would continue to receive funding as if they lost 3 percent of their students.

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Rep. Thomas Dayley, R-Boise

Even growing districts must pay into the program, said sponsor Rep. Thomas Dayley. West Ada School District has had to pay about $370,000 into the program over the past two years, he said.

“It seems unfair to take funding from a growing school district of any size.”

Under the opt-out bill, districts would not have to pay into the program, and would be ineligible to receive funding protection. They could also choose to remain in the program and be locked in for five years.

Kerby questioned how large districts opting out would affect smaller districts, and whether districts that remain in the program would have to pick up the burden by paying more.

“I think that is where your rub is going to be on this thing,” Kerby said.

Following its introduction, the bill is eligible to return to House Education for a full hearing.

Looking ahead. As of late morning Monday, a new career ladder bill had yet to surface or appear on any legislative agendas.

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Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle

Last week, Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, held the $125 million career ladder bill in committee, saying supporters could strengthen the proposal by rewriting the bill. When DeMordaunt shelved the bill, the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee responded by postponing its work on the 2015-16 school budget.

With teacher salaries and the school budget on hold, adjournment of the legislative session is also up in the air.

After Monday’s meeting, DeMordaunt said he is aiming to bring back a rewritten teacher salary bill sometime this week.

Keep checking back with Idaho Education News this week for coverage of the teacher salary showdown and next year’s school budget. Kevin Richert and Clark Corbin contributed to this report.