Legislative roundup, 3.2.2015: Common Core survives a challenge

The Senate Education Committee slammed the brakes on a plan to convert the new Idaho Core Standards into “more Idaho-specific standards.”

A mix of education and business groups argued that it is too early to ditch the English language arts and math standards, first implemented in the fall of 2013.

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Sen. Steven Thayn

But Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, argued for the review — even though he predicted that at least 90 percent of the standards would likely survive such a process intact.

The committee discussion on Senate Concurrent Resolution 105 reprised the recurring debate over the history of the Idaho Core Standards. The state adopted the standards in a failed attempt to secure federal Race for the Top education grants, said Thayn, and Idaho educators had little say in the current product. “I think it’s time to give our teachers a chance to weigh in.”

Lobbyists for two education groups — Robin Nettinga of the Idaho Education Association and Karen Echeverria of the Idaho School Boards Association — both said their members overwhelmingly support the standards.

The resolution would have required a review of the standards in 2015, prompting questions about the timing. “We believe that the current standards should have a chance to work,” said Rod Gramer, CEO of Idaho Business for Education.

Several committee members agreed. “Right now (Common Core is) the best practice that I can see,” said Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise.

A coalition of Republicans and Democrats voted to hold the resolution in committee – over the objections of committee Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, and Thayn, the committee’s vice chairman.

On other Statehouse action:

Trustee sunshine reports. Senate Education gave the go-ahead to a bill to require school board candidates to file campaign finance reports.

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Sen. Mary Souza

Debate on the bill was limited. But Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, tried to convince the committee to amend the bill. He argued for an exemption covering candidates in small districts — in communities that often struggle to find volunteers to run for school board.

When that motion failed, the committee gave the bill its unanimous support, sending it to the Senate floor for a vote.

Senate Bill 1072 is sponsored by Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene.

School funding formula. The House passed a bill designed to provide financial assistance to schools that experience enrollment growth throughout the year.

Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, said House Bill 126 is needed because charter schools, virtual schools and some public schools experience increases in enrollment when students move into the state or switch schools midyear.

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Rep. Judy Boyle

School funding is calculated using a complex formula that involves attendance figures from the first 10 weeks of the school year to calculate salary-based apportionment. Under that system, Boyle argued the schools where students move during the year do not receive state funding to compensate for enrollment increases.

Under Boyle’s bill, schools would be able to use that first 10-week period or the end-of-term attendance numbers, whichever is greater.

“These kids cannot wait, these kids have not had a good experience, many of them, in the school they are at,” said Boyle, who pursued a similar bill last session. “We cannot fail these students and these kids again.

However, some members of the budget-setting Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee opposed the bill, saying its estimated $1.7 million price tag was not included in Gov. Butch Otter’s budget blueprint. Other lawmakers worried that the bill would lead the state to double-fund students who move, since the students’  original schools would not return the funding they already received.

“Yes, it is problem, and I’m sorry (this bill) didn’t arrive earlier so we could incorporate it in what doing and try to find the funding for it,” said JFAC co-chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, arguing unsuccessfully for the Legislature to wait a year.

The bill passed, 51-19. It heads next to the Senate.

Background check fees. The House Education Committee advanced a bill designed to update fees for background checks in schools.

Committee members were faced with two similar bills relating to fingerprint and background check fees, presented by Tim Corder, special assistant to state superintendent Sherri Ybarra.

Under House Bill 190, the state will pass on administrative costs from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Idaho State Police involving fingerprint checks for new teachers, substitutes, coaches, volunteers, bus drivers and others who work around children.

A flat $40 fee is now imposed to cover the applications and background checks, but Corder said this fund has been operating at a deficit.

House Education backed House Bill 190 over Senate Bill 1019, which would have added an $11 fee to the ISP and FBI fees to cover the Department of Education’s administrative costs.

Committee members did not think the $11 fee should be passed on.

Boise Republican Rep. Pat McDonald, a former U.S. marshal, unsuccessfully attempted to delay a vote on the bill until the ISP could brief the committee on their process and fees.

The bill next heads to the House floor.

Reporters Kevin Richert and Clark Corbin contributed to this report.