Statehouse roundup, 2.14.2021: Full-day kindergarten funding bill emerges

A bill to fund full-day kindergarten throughout the state made its debut in the Senate Education Committee Monday.

It would take a direct approach, allowing school districts to collect double the per-pupil funding they now receive for half-day kindergarten.

That proposal, from Sen. Carl Crabtree, would cost somewhere between $42 million and $46 million annually, if an estimated 80% of school districts take advantage of full-day kindergarten funding. They would have the option of doing so, and students would have the option of attending.

A competing approach: Gov. Brad Little has pushed a different proposal, which would allocate an extra $47 million annually to early literacy programs, giving districts the option of spending it on full-day kindergarten. No bill doing exactly that has been introduced so far this year.

Currently, school districts and charters only receive funding to run half-day kindergarten programs.

The fine print: Crabtree’s bill would also ban school districts from paying for full-day kindergarten with maintenance and operations levies. Many school districts use voter-passed supplemental levies to fund schools, but only a handful of charter districts established before Idaho was granted statehood — the Boise School District among them — can still collect maintenance and operations property tax levies.

The bill would also require that full-day kindergarten programs use evidence-based teaching methods.

Senate Education swiftly introduced the proposal, along with six others, on a unanimous voice vote with no discussion.

From Senate Education Chairman Steven Thayn. This bill would establish education savings accounts — government-authorized accounts that allow families to spend government funds on a variety of education-related costs — for kindergarten families.

Under Thayn’s proposal, families could receive $1,500 per kindergartner to pay for computers and other tech, textbooks and curriculum, speech language therapy, “educational services” and other expenses. And school districts would receive $500 for every student who gets a “kindergarten savings account,” to help cover the costs of increased testing and administrative work.

The fine print: Parents and legal guardians would have to apply for the money, and they could only do so if their student isn’t enrolled in full-day kindergarten.

Students would also have to pass a kindergarten screener the spring before they would have attended kindergarten in order to receive the first two-thirds of the money. Then, they’d have to “pass” the Idaho Reading Indicator, Idaho’s K-3 standardized test for reading skills, to receive the final third of the money later on.

The State Board of Education could also limit the number of applicants in certain districts, and determine other eligible expenses.

Other action in Senate Education

Divisive teachings. A new resolution from Crabtree, R-Grangeville, and Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, decries “critical race theory;” “divisive content…appearing in school curriculum across the nation” that “seeks to disregard the history of the United States and the nation’s journey to becoming a pillar of freedom in the world;” and the 1619 Project, a Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times look into anti-Black racism’s role in the U.S.’ founding.

The resolution — a non-binding statement of the Legislature’s opinion — backs the 1776 Commission, a Trump administration rebuke of the Times’ work, and declares that the Legislature supports teaching children in a way that views “history both clearly and wholly, not only the offenses but also the triumphs,” as “the faults of this great nation have been addressed throughout our history.”

The state already has a “non-discrimination” law in place that targets critical race theory, but doesn’t ban the teaching of the academic lens for viewing racism’s impact on institutions. As a conservative push against alleged leftist indoctrination continues nationally, the new resolution reignites Statehouse Republicans’ focus on the issue in 2022.

Busing contracts. Currently, school districts can’t sign contracts for student transportation that run longer than five years. A new bill would raise that cap to 10 years if the contract is paid for by a new federal clean school bus program, which was established by the sweeping infrastructure law passed by Congress last year.

The committee introduced three other proposals — and even though draft bills become public record after a committee discusses them, a committee secretary said she did not have copies to share with EdNews.

The committee also unanimously sent two proposals to the Senate floor.

Dyslexia screenings. Senate Bill 1280 would require the State Department of Education to tackle dyslexia in three ways.

  • Give the IRI to fourth- and fifth-graders.
  • Give a second screening to K-5 students who are struggling on the reading test, looking for signs of dyslexia.
  • Train teachers to intervene and help students who have dyslexia and train those teachers to perform the above screenings.

Advocates, including two parents and a College of Idaho education professor who helped draft the bill, said the state needs to catch dyslexia early so that students don’t fall too far behind.

“We are the last state on this journey to recognize dyslexia in legislation,” said Assistant Professor Sally Brown. “I feel like (SB 1280) can close the gaps in the literacy achievement act that we already have on the books.”

Two State Department of Education officials said they supported the bill’s intention. But they ultimately opposed it, because it makes new requirements for teacher training and student testing without allocating any money to cover associated costs.

“I will also mention that the timeline for all teachers to receive professional development in dyslexia (intervention and screening) is problematic,” said SDE Deputy Superintendent Marilyn Whitney. “Requiring this training by the start of the 2023-2024 school year isn’t realistic given our experience.”

The SDE is scheduled to present its own version of a dyslexia bill in the House Education Committee Tuesday.

After lengthy debate, but no opposition from the committee, the bill heads to the Senate floor.

Armed Forces Scholarship. A bill to expand a scholarship’s eligibility to children and spouses of military members killed in combat also cleared the committee. (More on that here.)

House Bill 461 sailed through the House already. It now heads to the Senate.

House sidetracks scholarship eligibility bill

A bill expanding eligibility for a state scholarship was bounced from the House floor back to the House Education Committee over a concern it could lead to nepotism.

The Postsecondary Credit Scholarship currently matches business scholarships awarded to students who’ve completed college credits while in high school. But the state will only match those private sector scholarships if the scholarships have a GPA requirement attached to them, leaving most past applicants ineligible.

House Bill 505 would change that, removing the GPA-based “merit” requirement in law.

But Majority Caucus Chair Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett, questioned whether the change would allow business owners to funnel scholarships to their relatives and cash in on state funds unscrupulously. The same concern surfaced in House Education before the committee unanimously backed it, but Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, on Monday asked for the bill to go back to his committee so members can double check whether a nepotism risk exists.

His request was honored with no opposition. The bill can now receive another committee hearing, or a revised version could emerge.

Blake Jones

Blake Jones

Reporter Blake Jones covers the politics and policy of Idaho's K-12 public school system. He's a lifelong Idahoan, and holds degrees in Creative Writing and Political Economy from the College of Idaho. Follow Blake on Twitter @jonesblakej. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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