Legislative roundup, 3.16.21: New early education grant bill emerges

Two weeks after a divided House rejected a $6 million early education grant, budget-writers agreed on a Plan B.

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee’s new spending bill doesn’t change the bottom line, or the process. It authorizes the State Board of Education and the Idaho chapter of the Association for the Education of Young Children to launch the three-year, federally funded grant process.

The difference is in the details, and legislative “intent language” designed to appease House conservatives. Among the key points: federal dollars cannot be spent “to dictate curricula” at the local level; the local early education centers must be “financially self-sufficient,” without state dollars; and the State Board will oversee the local programs.

JFAC’s Tuesday morning rewrite sets the stage for another House floor showdown on early education.

Early education supporters — including Gov. Brad Little — say the federal grant with help build local partnerships with schools, businesses and community groups. And they say the local early education programs would support Little’s long-term goal of getting elementary school students reading at grade level.

House conservatives pushed back on the grant — saying they were concerned about building early education programs, and targeting the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the Idaho AEYC’s parent organization.

And on March 2, the House stalled the grant on a 34-36 vote, prompting a protest on the Statehouse steps one day later.

On Tuesday, Rep. Ron Nate restated many of the same concerns that punctuated the March 2 debate.

Nate, R-Rexburg, again said the national AEYC has “questionable motives,” saying the group wants to push a social justice curriculum while saddling the state with the cost of new federally grant-funded startups. And he decried the fact that the early education grant proposal was back on JFAC’s agenda, after the House voted twice to reject the money.

“It’s disturbing to me that we have one program that gets three bites at the apple,” Nate said. “We can do better than this.”

JFAC voted 18-2 to approve the rewritten spending bill, with Nate and Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, voting no.

On Feb. 18, when JFAC passed the first version of the early education grant bill, Nate and Giddings also cast the sole dissenting votes.

Tax cut bill advances to the House floor

The House Revenue and Taxation Committee endorsed a $389.4 million tax cut and rebate bill, sending it to the House floor for a vote.

Sponsored by Revenue and Taxation Chairman Steven Harris and House GOP leadership, the bill would permanently reduce income tax brackets and provide a $220 million in one-time tax rebates to Idaho families.

“Our intent isn’t to tax a citizen to the extreme, but to pull out what seems reasonable, to pull out what is already there, and return to the taxpayers those monies that they have paid in,” said Harris, R-Meridian.

Tuesday’s committee vote marks another incremental step in a late-session debate over tax relief.

At the start of the session, Gov. Brad Little called for $455 million in permanent and one-time tax cuts, but said he would leave it to legislators to work out the details. It took until Tuesday, the 65th day of the session, for a major bill to emerge from Revenue and Taxation, the legislative jumping-off point for all tax bills.

Tax policy directly affects education funding. Education receives roughly 60 percent of the state’s general fund budget, which, in turn, comes from sales and income taxes.

Rep. Lauren Necochea, D-Boise, argued against the bill Tuesday, saying it would grant disproportionately large relief to Idaho’s highest income earners without doing much for low-income families or addressing constituents’ property tax concerns.

She also cautioned against returning funds when the state has costly infrastructure needs and ranks last in the nation for per-pupil spending.

“I think this puts us at risk of never climbing out of that hole,” she said.

All-day kindergarten bill a Tuesday no-show

Supporters had hoped to unveil a revised all-day kindergarten bill in committee Tuesday.

But Tuesday’s House State Affairs Committee meeting came and went without a discussion of the topic.

The optional full-day kindergarten bill is designed to make it easier for districts to put state dollars into full-day kindergarten. State law funds only half-day kindergarten sessions, forcing districts to use tuition or supplemental property tax levies to cover the balance. Supporters are rewriting the bill to make it clear that schools cannot shift the cost of new full-day kindergarten programs back to property taxes, Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, said Monday.

As of late Tuesday morning, House State Affairs has not posted agendas for meetings Wednesday or later in the week. And all-day kindergarten is not on the House Education Committee’s Wednesday or Friday agenda.

Idaho Education News covered Tuesday’s hearings remotely.



Kevin Richert and Sami Edge

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday