Statehouse roundup, 1.25.19: Scholarship proposal won’t eliminate backlog

Another $7 million would cut into some of Idaho’s college scholarship backlog — but not all of it.

Gov. Brad Little’s request would allow at least 2,000 more students to get a share of the Idaho Opportunity Scholarship. But 3,423 students are now on a waiting list.

“There is a tremendous need for this scholarship,” State Board of Education Executive Director Matt Freeman told legislative budget-writers Friday morning.

The Opportunity Scholarship is a focal point in the state’s efforts to improve its moribund college completion rates. And the requested $7 million increase is a centerpiece of Little’s first education budget.

But if the Legislature funds this request — in whole or in part — it’s impossible to say exactly how many new scholarships the state could award. That’s because the need- and merit-based scholarship runs for up to four years, and the State Board makes ongoing awards a priority.

In 2018, the average scholarship came to $3,346, Freeman said, close to the maximum award of $3,500.

Since 2015, the Legislature has boosted the Opportunity Scholarship line item from $5 million to $13.5 million.

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The State Board has parceled out more than $12.4 million this year, and an additional 221 scholarships are in the pipeline.

“We’re on pace to award as much as we possibly can this year,” Freeman told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.

On Friday, JFAC wrapped up “Education Week,” five days of budget presentations on K-12 and higher education programs that, taken together, comprise more than 60 percent of the state’s general fund budget.

The Opportunity Scholarship request was a recurring theme from the week’s hearings, with college and university leaders praising Little’s request.

Interim Boise State University President Martin Schimpf joined that chorus Friday morning. Additional scholarships would fund an “upward trajectory” that helps not only today’s students, but future generations.

“Quite simply, this money will change lives,” he said.

Schimpf hints at 5 percent tuition increase

Boise State students and parents could see about a 5 percent tuition and fee increase this fall.

Schimpf offered the rough estimate Friday, responding to a question from Rep. Paul Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene.

It’s an early estimate. The State Board will set 2019-20 tuition and fees in April.

Boise State charges $7,694 in in-state tuition and fees, after the State Board approved a 5 percent increase last spring.

Schimpf based his estimate on two variables: inflation, and the cost of employee pay raises.

Little has recommended a 3 percent pay increase, which would be awarded on merit. A legislative committee this week tweaked the proposal, according to the Idaho Press; lawmakers want a $550 across-the-board increase, and merit raises averaging 2 percent.

Regardless, the cost of the pay raise was another recurring theme during this week’s budget hearings. College and university leaders said a $6.6 million line item won’t cover the full cost of the pay raises. On Monday, State Board President Linda Clark said the pay raise plan would trigger tuition and fee increases.

But during his budget presentation, Schimpf acknowledged that Boise State’s salaries lag below the median for higher education, and well below the private sector. That means the university routinely loses classified staff, such as IT professionals, to higher-paying jobs.

“It’s a struggle,” he said.

Schimpf also used his budget presentation to talk about the changing face of the state’s largest university. Boise State is rapidly evolving from a commuter school to a “24/7 campus,” he said. About 6,000 students live on or near campus, and its 3,000 university housing units are in heavy demand.

Meanwhile, Boise State also offers 40 online degree programs.

Boise State is in a continuing “race” to keep pace with growth, Schimpf said. Student headcount topped 25,500 last fall, a 15 percent increase over the past three years.

Little’s budget calls for a 4.9 percent budget increase for Boise State. He has proposed a 2.9 percent overall increase for higher education.

Immunization requirements 

A North Idaho representative introduced a concurrent resolution Friday seeking to nullify immunization guidelines for school children.

Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, introduced House Concurrent Resolution 4 as a personal bill on Friday, the deadline for introducing such measures.

By introducing it as a personal bill, Giddings went around the traditional legislative process of introducing bills through the committee process. Generally speaking, personal bills do not advance in the House, where Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, and committee chairs place a lot of value in the more traditional process.

Legislators often introduce personal bills as a last resort if they cannot find a committee chair who will allow a vote to introduce the proposal.

Giddings’ resolution states, in part: “WHEREAS, it is the finding of the Legislature that certain rules of the Department of Health and Welfare relating to Immunization Requirements for Idaho School Children are not consistent with legislative intent and should be rejected.”

Her resolution aims to reject and nullify the entirety of a seven-page Department of Health and Welfare rule that spells out immunizations “required of children upon admission to kindergarten through grade twelve (12) of any Idaho public, private, or parochial schools.” This requirement is less than binding, however, since parents can opt their children out of immunizations.

Idaho Education News reporter Clark Corbin contributed to this report.

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