Statehouse roundup, 2.15.17: Funding formula committee finishes work … for now

On Wednesday, the Legislature’s school funding formula committee reviewed its term paper.

The lawmakers’ seven-page report runs down their work, to date, on studying Idaho’s complicated funding formula. This document also sets the framework for the harder and costlier work ahead. The committee is expected to reconvene this summer, and recommend changes to the formula during the 2018 session.

“The real heavy lifting is coming,” said the committee’s co-chair, Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise.

The committee’s work for the 2017 session ended with a formality Wednesday — a 15-minute meeting to review its report.

The report itself was short on surprises — running down some well-established problems with Idaho’s funding formula:

  • Classified salaries. School districts have long complained that the state is shortchanging salaries for “classified” staff, a catchall category that includes hard-to-find employees such as IT professionals.
  • Insurance costs. Districts are hamstrung by the rising cost of health care — and have struggled to figure out how much of the cost to pass along to employees and their families. Gov. Butch Otter has recommended a $15 million line item for 2017-18, covering some of the districts’ insurance costs.
  • Transportation costs. Lawmakers suggested simplifying the state’s formula for covering busing costs, and replacing $7.5 million in transportation money that was cut during the recession.

From here, the committee’s work is expected to change. The lawmakers are likely to spend the next few months looking at simulated changes to the formula, testing new funding models and consulting with states that have rewritten their formulas.

And that has a cost. It will cost “several hundred thousand dollars” to hire consultants and purchase computer software for simulations, said Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, a committee co-chair.

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Technically, the 2017 Legislature still has to vote to keep the funding formula committee intact. On Thursday morning, the House Education Committee will get a first look at legislation giving the committee a one-year extension.

Idaho has not updated its school funding formula since 1994.

Adult completer scholarship

Gov. Butch Otter’s proposal to create a new scholarship as an incentive for adults to return to school ran into some resistance in the House.

On Wednesday, the House Education Committee considered a second bill to create an “adult completer” scholarship.

Marilyn Whitney, Otter’s deputy chief of staff and education liaison, described the second bill as an attempt to address concerns the committee raised with House Bill 35, which has been on hold since its introduction Jan. 23.

The newest version would still offer adults $3,000 per academic year to return to college. The scholarship would benefit Idaho residents who have earned at least 24 college credits, are seeking their first undergraduate degree and have been away from college for at least three years.

The new bill clarifies that the scholarship could be used by part-time students and would not supplant existing veterans’ benefits, Whitney said.

Even with the changes, committee members remained divided.

Supporters said the bill is a valuable tool to helping boost the work force, and supports Idaho’s goal of having 60 percent of the state’s young adults hold a postsecondary certificate or degree by 2020.

“This is an area where lots of people could step up and really help get our economy going,” said Rep. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth. “This is something we absolutely need to give a shot.”

Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, tried unsuccessfully to kill the bill on the spot. Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, favored introducing the bill, but suggested she would debate it thoroughly at a full hearing.

Last year, the Senate killed a similar bill. Opponents have argued that it rewards people for dropping out of school.

House Education introduced the bill on a voice vote, clearing the way for it to return for a full hearing.

Gubernatorial appointments

Over the course of five minutes — and without any debate or discussion — the Senate Education Committee signed off on four gubernatorial appointments Wednesday afternoon.

As expected, the committee recommended the full Senate confirm Andrew Scoggin’s appointment to the State Board of Education. Gov. Butch Otter appointed Scoggin to the State Board on Aug. 4. On Tuesday, Scoggin enjoyed a brief and friendly confirmation hearing.

Senate Education also recommended the full Senate confirm Sherrilynn W. Bair, Wanda Chillingworth Quinn and Brian Scigliano to the Public Charter School Commission.

The full Senate could vote to confirm those appointments next week.

Idaho Education News reporter Clark Corbin contributed to this report.

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