Statehouse roundup, 2.14.19: Charter administrators bill heads to Senate floor

Along party lines — and over objections from several education groups — the Senate Education Committee OK’d a bill to give charter schools more latitude in hiring administrators.

Senate Bill 1058 would create a new certification process for charter administrators. Supporters say this would allow charters to hire a leader with a business background, or hire a successful administrator from outside Idaho. Opponents say the bill bypasses the normal professional standard for educators.

Then-Gov. Butch Otter vetoed an administrators’ bill on the final day of the 2018 session. And after trying to negotiate with education groups on a compromise, charter advocates are back with a similar bill in 2019.

“(This is) still important to many of our public charter schools across the state,” said the bill’s Senate sponsor, Meridian Republican Lori Den Hartog.

Under the bill, a charter administrator would have to hold a bachelor’s degree, meet one of several work experience requirements and pass a criminal background check. The administrator would also need to receive training on teacher evaluations, and produce a letter from the charter’s board that says trustees are “committed to overseeing the applicant’s performance.”

Said Blake Youde, a lobbyist for the Idaho Charter School Network, “It broadens the applicant pool, particularly in a state where we have educator shortages.”

The Idaho Association of School Administrators and the Idaho Education Association oppose the bill. The State Board of Education also voted to oppose the bill Thursday — although that did not come out in the Senate Education hearing. When Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, asked State Board staff to discuss the agency’s position, committee Chairman Dean Mortimer said it was inappropriate to ask staff to answer the question.

Ward-Engelking led the opposition in committee. She said the bill would hurt charter teachers, since they would have to work in an environment without a strong educational leader.

The committee sent SB 1058 to the Senate floor with a recommendation that it pass. Ward-Engelking and Boise Democratic Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb voted no.

High school student pushes bill for scheduling flexibility

Given the chance, Sebastian Griffin says he would have graduated high school early.

Now the senior class president at Nampa High School, Griffin says he would like other students to get that chance.

Sebastian Griffin listens to Thursday’s discussion of his Senate Bill 1060.

He has co-written a bill with Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, that would allow high-performing high school students more flexibility in their schedules. He believes his bill would help career-motivated students get a jumpstart on life after high school.

“Why would we want to put that fire out?” Griffin, a Senate page, said during Thursday’s Senate Education meeting.

Senate Bill 1060 would apply only to students who exceed college- and career-ready benchmarks on standardized tests and maintain a 3.5 GPA. Eligible students could graduate early, or take college or career-technical classes or work on apprenticeships or internships.

It’s hard to say how many students will take part. About 600 students could sign on, according to the bill’s statement of purpose, but Thayn said that estimate could be on the high end.

Senate Education sent the bill to the floor for possible amendments — a move that sometimes derails a bill. But Den Hartog said that wasn’t her intent.

“I would like to see movement on this legislation this session,” she said.

Using advanced opportunities money for CTE

Idaho’s growing advanced opportunities program could branch out and cover some career-technical courses.

Senate Bill 1105 would allow rural students to use their $4,125 advanced opportunities allowance for CTE classes — as long as the classwork moves a student toward a professional certificate and as long as the classes are not offered in their high school.

Rep. Ryan Kerby, a New Plymouth Republican co-sponsoring the bill with Thayn, cited a problem in his legislative district. Weiser High School students are taking part in a heating, ventilation and air conditioning apprenticeship through a local HVAC company. But while students can use advanced opportunities money for dual-credit courses, they cannot use them for CTE courses. As a result, the Weiser School District is covering the students’ costs for now.

Wendy Secrist, executive director of the Idaho Workforce Development Council, talked about another rural district that is trying to overcome challenges to expand CTE. The Cassia County and Minidoka County school districts are offering an apprenticeship with local food manufacturers. But because of the restrictions in advanced opportunities, the districts offer the class during zero hour, before the standard school day starts.

“We want to celebrate these opportunities and not make them more difficult for students to take part in,” she said.

Ultimately, Senate Education appeared to agree, sending SB 1105 to the Senate floor with a recommendation that it pass.

Charter schools and impact fees

A bill that could exempt charter schools from development impact fees is headed to the House floor.

Supporters say House Bill 91 would allow local governments to waive fees for charter schools — so one taxing entity is not forced to collect money from a publicly funded school.

“We’re just trading dollars,” said Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, who is co-sponsoring the bill with Den Hartog.

The House Local Government Committee sided with sponsors on their main point. They agreed that charter schools and traditional public charter schools should be treated fairly — and local governments should be able to impose or waive fees across the board.

But lawmakers debated whether the bill would violate the state Constitution by benefiting only a single entity.

Meridian’s Compass Public Charter School has a direct stake in the fate of HB 91. The school paid $200,000 in Ada County Highway District impact fees in order to get a building permit for a new school for its 1,000 students. A gymnasium project is on hold, and if ACHD refunds the fee, this money would help cover the $470,000 cost, Compass board Chairman Norm Varin told the committee.

As written, HB 91 would go into effect immediately, which means Compass could apply for a refund immediately. Most new laws do not contain an “emergency clause,” and go into effect on July 1, at the start of the new state budget year.

Reps. Steve Berch and Brooke Green, both D-Boise, voted against the bill, citing concerns with the emergency clause.

Kevin Richert

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 "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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