Statehouse roundup, 2.11.20: Flexible school schedule bill survives, barely

A divided Senate Education Committee approved a bill to encourage parents to teach their advanced elementary school students at home.

Senate Bill 1293 would allow parents to work with their child’s school on a flexible school schedule — provided their child remains at least a year ahead of schedule.

Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett

The sponsor, Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, described his rewritten bill as a “very consumer-, parent-friendly” method of encouraging students to stay ahead in elementary school, and encouraging parents to work with their kids to keep them ahead.

Children would still need to maintain at least 65 percent attendance in school. And the program is voluntary. Schools and districts do not need to participate. Teachers would also have to sign on before a student could go on a flexible schedule.

Supporters said the bill would allow Idaho to capitalize on the power of engaged, motivated parents. “Perhaps it’s time to tap into a resource that isn’t money,” said Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian.

But the proposal ran into bipartisan opposition.

Thayn’s bill guarantees participating schools would receive full funding. But Sen. Jim Woodward, R-Sagle, said he was uneasy about that idea — which essentially would pay schools for empty classroom seats.

Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, a retired teacher, applauded the idea of encouraging parental involvement. But Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, said she worried that the bill would be cumbersome, and send a message that devalues schools.

“The teacher is ultimately accountable for all aspects of that child’s learning,” she said.

Ultimately, the committee voted 5-4 to send Thayn’s bill to the Senate, with a recommendation that it pass.

Grocery tax bill of the day

House Speaker Scott Bedke was back before the House Revenue and Taxation Committee Tuesday with a slightly revised bill to increase the income tax credit for groceries.

For consumers, the math is unchanged. Every Idahoan would receive a $135 credit. Currently, most Idahoans receive $100 while seniors receive $120.

The only difference in this bill, said Bedke, is that it clarifies the flow of money from the state’s Tax Relief Fund to cover the increased credit. Bankrolled by collections from Idaho’s new sales tax on Internet purchases, the fund is expected to cover the increased grocery tax credit, projected to cost $48 million to $49 million a year.

This offset is important. Supporters say the state can afford an increased grocery tax credit without dipping into Idaho’s general fund budget, which pays for K-12 and higher education.

The committee quickly introduced the new bill, which is likely to come back for a full hearing.

The path for Bedke’s bill appears clear, at least in committee. On Monday, Revenue and Taxation shelved three bills to eliminate all sales taxes on groceries.

Kevin Richert

About Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on KIVI 6 On Your Side; "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television; and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at krichert@idahoednews.org

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