Pilot pre-school program moves forward

A standing-room only crowd, including some of Idaho’s most prominent business and education leaders, watched the House Education Committee approve the progression of three pieces of legislation about pre-school, teacher salary funding and creating a committee to review workforce training and its relationship to education.

Two of the three pieces of legislation moved swiftly and with little or no discussion, while Rep. Hy Kloc’s idea launch a pilot pre-school to collect data took the brunt of review. The committee eventually approved a bill introduction, but the approval wasn’t unanimous and was proceeded by pointed questions about the bill’s intent and “very expensive” funding.

Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, eventually urged her committee to move the legislation forward if no other reason that to please those in the crowd.

“So many groups turned out today and so many have invested time and thought on this issue so we would be doing a disservice without holding a public hearing,” she said.

Groups attending to show their support of Kloc’s legislation were Rod Gramer (Idaho Business for Education), Beth Oppenheimer (Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children), Penni Cyr (Idaho Education Association), Ray Stark (Boise Chamber of Commerce) and Nora Carpenter (United Way of Treasure Valley). They were not allowed to testify on Monday, but will be able to if the bill receives a hearing in the committee.

Committee members were the only ones allowed to comment on Monday. Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, voiced his opposition because it competes with private preschools and it’s “very expensive”, he said. The three-year budget for the state is $600,000 with 55 percent of the funding coming from private sources, which totals more than $4,000 per student for half-day preschool. Idaho districts average spending $6,000 per student in K-12.

“I really struggle with that number,” Clow said.

The pilot program would happen at five schools and involve about 100 students (no more than 22 students per school). The intent of the program is to develop and collect data over three years.

“Doesn’t the data already exist?” asked Committee Chairman Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle.

“Why not study our existing programs?” asked Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls.

Kloc, D-Boise, responded by saying that existing preschools in Idaho aren’t consistent, they use different structures and curriculum and, he said, “we aren’t sure it’s a quality program.”

For more history on this pilot proposal, click here.

Workforce and education bill

The House Education Committee swiftly moved forward printing a bill to create a committee the will study the needs of Idaho’s workforce and how those needs relate to training. There were no questions, no discussion and a unanimous decision to move forward with the idea.

Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, presented and said the legislation will require the Department of Labor and the State Board of Education to gather an advisory group to collaborate with businesses and educators. This group would make policy recommendations and possibly propose legislation. The long-term plan is to tie workforce needs to the education system. The governor’s office had input on the legislation’s development, Rouche said.

Use-it-or-lose-it bill moves to the floor

The Education Committee voted unanimously to move to the House floor a bill to extend and then phase out the “use it or lose it” budget flexibility program.

Districts will immediately lose the spending flexibility if this bill is not passed because the current law sunsets this year. Each year, the state sends money to school districts to pay for teachers based on a funding formula. “Use it or lose it” allows districts to hire 9.5 percent fewer teachers than the state funds.

DeMordaunt’s bill would keep the program intact through 2014-15. Beginning in 2015-16, the state would reduce that 9.5 percent funding flexibility by 1 percent each year for each district in which the average class size was at least one student larger than the statewide average. Class size data is currently unavailable from the State Department of Education.

For 2012-13, 88 school districts hired fewer teachers than the state funded, while 27 districts hired more.

DeMordaunt told his committee members that the law that sunsets was never intended to be a long-term program but that district need the continued flexibility in the short term.