Statehouse roundup, 1.11.22: Little proposes phasing out teacher bonus plan

Alex Adams, the head of Gov. Brad Little’s Division of Financial Management, summarizes Little’s budget request during a hearing Tuesday. Kyle Pfannenstiel/Idaho EdNews

Gov. Brad Little wants to phase out a teacher bonus program to help cover insurance costs for all K-12 employees.

Alex Adams, the head of Little’s Division of Financial Management, walked legislative budget-writers through the insurance plan Tuesday morning.

Little wants to put another $105 million of state tax money toward school employees’  health insurance.

In essence, Adams said Tuesday, Little wants to close a $4,000 gap in benefits. The state now covers a school employee’s health insurance, to the tune of about $8,500. State employees get a $12,500-a-year benefit.

By covering additional insurance costs, the state can shield school employees from rising insurance premiums, which can increase by 20% in some cases, Adams told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee Tuesday. And this, he said, would help schools recruit and keep staff.

Little wants to offset the expanded benefits, at least somewhat, by eliminating the state’s $17.9 million leadership premium program.

Passed in 2014, and based on a recommendation from former Gov. Butch Otter’s 2013 K-12 task force, the leadership premiums were designed to give bonuses to teachers who take on added responsibilities. That could include mentoring, providing career or academic counseling or teaching a dual-credit course.

The career ladder, Idaho’s teacher salary plan, has since rendered the bonuses obsolete, Adams said Tuesday. Leadership is used as a prerequisite to move veteran teachers up the ladder.

“The tradeoff here is, school employees would lose a periodic, one-time bonus for $4,000, ongoing, for health insurance costs,” Adams said.

The leadership premium program came under scrutiny in 2017, when a State Department of Education report criticized some schools for providing across-the-board bonuses to all staff, bonuses that fell below the $850 minimum set by the law — or bonuses that were higher than the law allows.

Little has discussed the leadership premium with education groups, Adams said. However, state superintendent Sherri Ybarra wants to keep the premiums in place — and increase its budget to nearly $20.5 million next year.

JFAC will go through Ybarra’s budget request on Monday.

But Tuesday was Adams’ first day to go before JFAC; he’ll be back before the committee Wednesday to further discuss Little’s plans for federal coronavirus aid.

For nearly an hour, Adams walked JFAC through the governor’s budget bullet points, on everything from tax relief to infrastructure. And he provided some other details about the governor’s education budget; for example, Little’s plan to give every teacher a $1,000 “Kids in School” bonus would cost $17.8 million, coming from federal coronavirus aid.

After the presentation, JFAC didn’t tip its collective hand. The hearing ended without a single question from the 20 committee members.

A guide to House Education in 2022

The powerful House Education Committee spent Tuesday morning gearing up for the 2022 session, shaking hands, talking college football and reconnecting with key education players in an introductory meeting.

Two days into the session, committee members don’t yet have much work on their slate, but that’s soon to change. For when it does, here’s key info to know about this lineup of lawmakers.

High-stakes sausage making: House Education has serious sway over the creation of school policy, as does its Senate counterpart. Nearly every state education-related law passed in Idaho needs majority support from the education committees before the general Legislature can consider it. (JFAC-written school budgets are one important exception.)

House Education members have often driven high-profile items — such as edits to academic standards, rules for transgender students and school choice proposals.

Plus, the committees’ chairs effectively hold veto power, since they can determine which proposals get a committee hearing (and vote), and which don’t.

The 15-lawmaker roster: With three Democrats and 12 Republicans, GOP members hold the same supermajority in House Education that they do in the full Legislature.

At least nine committee members have career backgrounds in education. One is new to the committee this year, Rep. Lori McCann, and two others are also in their first terms in office.

Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls

  • Fifth-term legislator and former Twin Falls mayor.
  • Holds the most procedural power among committee members, setting agendas and leading debates.

Vice Chairman Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth

  • Fourth-term legislator and former New Plymouth School District superintendent.
  • Vice chairs generally oversee the review of agency rules.

Lori McCann, R-Lewiston

  • Former professor in Lewis-Clark State College paralegal program.
  • Priorities include early childhood education, according to an Idaho Statesman report.
  • Appointed to the Legislature last year to replace former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, who resigned last session and is now charged with a rape involving a teen intern.

Judy Boyle, R-Midvale

  • Seventh-term legislator and rancher.

Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’ Alene

  • Fifth-term legislator whose career was in construction and land services.

Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle

  • Third-term legislator.
  • The North Star Charter School founder and former state charter commission member has “largely been involved in education choice,” she said Tuesday.

Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley

  • Third-term legislator, and one of the committee’s most conservative members.
  • Former special education director, science teacher and geology instructor at Challis High School.

Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls

  • Third-term legislator and career basketball coach at high school and college level.
  • Received national attention for leading the push for Idaho’s ban on transgender women competing in school sports, now frozen amid a court challenge.

Gary L. Marshall, R-Idaho Falls

  • Second-term legislator and farmer.
  • Taught courses including teaching methods at Brigham Young University-Idaho after teaching high school classes and serving in administration in Idaho Falls.

Tony Wisniewski, R-Post Falls

  • Second-term legislator and engineer.

Codi Galloway, R-Boise

  • First-term legislator. Taught in public schools for three years early in her career.
  • Owned and managed a career-technical education company.

Julie Yamamoto, R-Caldwell

  • First-term legislator. A career teacher and administrator in Caldwell.

John McCrostie, D-Garden City

  • Fourth-term legislator. A high school music teacher who holds a law degree.

Steve Berch, D-Boise

  • Second-term legislator. A career Hewlett-Packard businessman.

Sally J. Toone, D-Gooding

  • Third-term lawmaker.
  • The only committee member in legislative leadership; she serves as minority caucus chairwoman.
  • Career Idaho math teacher in K-12 and College of Southern Idaho.

How to get involved: The committee plans to post its agendas two days out from its meetings, Clow said Tuesday. Those will be available online here, listing the proposals the committee plans to take up and the Statehouse room meetings will take place in — usually EW42, in the East wing of the Capitol’s lowest “Garden Level” floor — on any given day.

Idaho Public Television streams all meetings here. Constituents can testify on proposals in person, and this year online as well. Committee chairmen are being briefed this week on how to run new equipment to take remote testimony, Clow said, and House Education will use the new setup to hear from Idahoans across the state.

Meetings will typically start between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m.

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