Statehouse roundup, 1.17.22: School staff health insurance bill emerges

A bill designed to foster more health insurance options for schools cleared its first legislative hurdle Monday.

The proposal would accomplish two things on Gov. Brad Little’s education to-do list.

First, it would create a state fund that schools could use to join the state employee insurance plan. School districts can do this already — and even if this bill passes, local officials will be able to decide whether to join the state plan. But the bill would address the upfront costs of joining the plan, and coming up with the upfront payment needed to cover any costly claims at the outset. Money for the upfront costs would come from this temporary state fund, which would be in place for two years.

Alex Adams, the head of Little’s Division of Financial Management, has pegged the cost of the one-time buy-in at up to $75.5 million.

Second, the bill phases out Idaho’s “leadership premiums,” bonuses now given to teachers who take on mentorship roles or leadership positions. The savings, $19.7 million, would offset some of the costs of the new insurance program.

The House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee introduced the bill Monday, and it could come back for a full hearing at a later date.

A ‘self-directed learner’ bill

So could a new bill that would establish a “self-directed learner designation,” unanimously introduced by the Senate Education Committee Monday.

The bill would allow students who can demonstrate that they are self-directed learners greater flexibility in their education, said the bill’s sponsor, Senate Education Chairman Steven Thayn, R-Emmett. Those include “flexible attendance,” attending school virtually, “extended learning opportunities, and any other agreed-upon learning inside or outside the classroom,” the bill says.

It would “create such a structure where a greater degree of innovation can occur between teachers, students and parents by focusing on learning rather than seat time,” Thayn said.

The bill would allow school districts and charter schools to count self-directed learners as always in attendance, even if they are not, so that the districts and charters can collect their attendance-based funding from the state. Teachers would largely have the power to determine who is a “self-directed learner,” based on mastery of classroom content.


Kevin Richert and Blake Jones

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