Statehouse roundup, 2.1.17: Governor seeks contract to manage school Medicaid services

Gov. Butch Otter wants to spend $155,200 to better manage the tens of millions of dollars of Medicaid payments that go through school districts.

Otter wants to set up a third-party contract to manage Medicaid school-based services — services designed to help students with disabilities attend school.

Medicaid services can include anything from physical and occupational therapy to psychological evaluations. These services are no small undertaking for public schools. In 2015-16, school-based services accounted for more than $40 million in the Medicaid budget.

The third-party billing agency would work with school districts on their Medicaid claims and reimbursements. Districts would not be required to work through the billing agency.

“The contract should provide a reduction in current administrative contract costs and ultimately reduce the number of inaccurate claims and fines to school districts,” the Legislative Services Office said in its 2017-18 Legislative Budget Book, which details state agency and gubernatorial budget requests.

The $155,200 would fund two full-time staffers to manage the contract.

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee discussed the contract proposal Wednesday morning, as it continued to work through the Department of Health and Welfare’s 2017-18 budget request. JFAC took no action on the proposal. Legislative budget-writers will begin crafting budgets for Health and Welfare and other state agencies in the next few weeks.

K-12 savings account

Idaho’s public school piggy bank still isn’t back to pre-recession levels, and a key senator wants to do something about that.

Dean Mortimer
Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls

Senate Education Committee Chairman Dean Mortimer is floating a bill that would urge the Legislature to replace money withdrawn from the Public Education Stabilization Fund.

Better known as PESF, the K-12 reserve topped out at $112 million in 2008. Lawmakers rapidly drew down the account during the recession, and it bottomed out at $11.1 million in 2011.

The fund has recovered since then, and when the 2015-16 budget year ended on June 30, Idaho had $88.5 million banked away for K-12. However, lawmakers routinely withdraw from PESF to cover unexpected enrollment growth, and they may have to take out about $8.5 million to cover costs for the rest of the 2016-17 budget year.

Mortimer’s bill urges the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee to “consider” covering any withdrawals in the following budget year. In other words, if JFAC were to draw down the account by $8.5 million in 2016-17, lawmakers would be encouraged to set aside $8.5 million in the 2017-18 budget.

Mortimer’s committee voted to introduce his bill Wednesday, with no objection. That means the bill is likely to come back to the committee for a full hearing.

Repealing obsolete laws

Also Wednesday, the House Education Committee dedicated itself to cutting through red tape by stripping outdated or contradictory laws from the books.

State Board of Education spokesman Blake Youde led the committee through three new bills designed to repeal three old laws.

One deals with teacher certificates issued more than 70 years ago, an old law that was placed on the chopping block after education leaders realized that it doesn’t apply to any teacher working in the state.

Another arcane law marked for repeal is a 54-year-old statute that deals with recruiting elementary and secondary students to secret societies such as fraternities and sororities. Youde said the law is useless because other federal and state laws supersede it.

A third quirky law that could be on its way to the Statehouse Dumpster allows local district officials to use school buildings or vacant land for community purposes. While nothing is wrong with that law and current practices wouldn’t change with its repeal, Youde said it unnecessarily clogs up state law because the section of code immediately preceding it allows schools do the very same thing.

Rep. Lance Clow
Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls

“The State Board worked with several stakeholder groups in education to clean up, remove or delete redundant, outdated sections of the education code,” Youde told the committee. “The purpose of this, really, was to make the code more navigable for all those who have to refer to state education law.”

Committee members enjoyed a few light moments Wednesday as they enthusiastically voted to remove laws from the books. Chairwoman Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, joked gently with Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, about his enthusiasm for the job, suggesting her committee might want to spread those bills out so other lawmakers could get in on the fun.

All three repeal bills next head to the House floor with a recommendation that each pass.

Idaho Education News reporter Clark Corbin contributed to this story.