Legislative roundup, 3.5.15: A counseling bill surfaces

The House Education Committee introduced a bill Thursday that supporters say is designed to fulfill a task force recommendation for college counseling.

Presented by Gov. Butch Otter’s education liaison Marilyn Whitney, the new bill defines the role of school counselors and highlights appropriate activities for counselors. The bill also supports Otter’s $2.5 million recommendation for funding to school districts.

Whitney said the bill is important because counselors’ duties have shifted away from providing college and career advice in many districts.

“During the recent recession, counseling services in many school districts were eliminated and the role of counselors was shifted to more administrative (tasks) and focusing on social services,” Whitney said.

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Rep. Rich Wills

Rather than serving as data entry clerks or paperwork coordinators, the bill says counselors should focus on other tasks:

  • Student academic planning.
  • Small group counseling services.
  • Analyzing grade point averages in relationship to student achievement.
  • Providing counseling services to students who are tardy or have disciplinary issues.

“I’m really pleased to see an outline here of what school counselors’ duties specifically are,” said Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry. “I think it has been needed for some time.”

If the Joint Finance-Appropriation Committee funds the initiative, schools would receive $120 per classroom unit for grades eight through 12, or $10,000 per school district – whichever is greater.

The bill is expected to return to the House Education Committee for a full hearing.

In other Statehouse action:

Parental rights. On Wednesday afternoon, a divided Senate Education Committee advanced a parental rights bill over the objections of the major education groups.

Committee members voted 5-4 to send Senate Bill 1096 to the Senate floor with a recommendation it pass.

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Sen. Lori Den Hartog

Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, pushed the bill, saying parents rights are not recognized when it comes to educational issues and decisions.

The bill states, in part: “A student’s parent or guardian is the primary person responsible for the education of the student, and the state is in a secondary and supportive role to the parent or guardian.”

Den Hartog said her bill is not designed to allow parents to choose their own, unique curriculum for their students or to allow the state to shirk its constitutional responsibilities for education.

A second parental rights bill, House Bill 113, squeaked out of the House last week on a 37-31 vote.

The Idaho Education Association, Idaho School Boards Association and Idaho Association of School administrators all opposed Den Hartog’s bill.

“We don’t understand the need for this legislation, school districts and charter schools all over this state already comply with the provisions in this bill,” ISBA policy and government affairs director Jessica Harrison said, speaking for the three groups. “It adds one more layer of regulation we believe is unnecessary.”

A father of two children in the West Ada School District supported the bill, saying he wished to opt his children out of the forthcoming Common Core-aligned Idaho Standards Achievement Test by Smarter Balanced. The man said he was given the runaround when a principal denied his request.

Sens. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene and Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, joined Boise Democratic Sens. Cherie Buckner-Webb and Janie Ward-Engelking in opposing the bill.

It next heads to the Senate floor.

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Sen. Jim Patrick

Civics bill amended. Twin Falls Republican Sen. Jim Patrick’s bill encouraging civics education in the schools took a sidetrack on the Senate floor Wednesday — and was scaled back.

Senators amended the bill to delete language that would have made the online civics test a graduation requirement. Civics would remain a graduation requirement, however.

Here’s the amended language: “Starting with the 2016-2017 school year, all secondary pupils must show they have met the state civics and government standards for such instruction through the successful completion of the civics test or alternate path established by the local school district or charter school that shows the student has met the standards.”

The bill now awaits a Senate vote.

Kevin Richert contributed to this report.

More Statehouse news from the week. On Tuesday, the Legislature moved closer to making permanent pieces of the failed Proposition 1 labor law. On Monday, Common Core survived a challenge in committee.

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