Statehouse roundup, 2.15.19: Senate passes turnaround schools bill; rules fight heats up

A voluntary “turnaround schools” proposal is headed to the House — again.

The Senate passed a bill Friday to create the turnaround school program, which would provide professional consulting help to low-performing schools that commit to a three-year improvement plan.

The need is no less acute than it was a year ago, when a similar turnaround bill was yanked off the House floor, said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Dean Mortimer.

“We still need help, especially those (schools) performing in our lowest categories,” said Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, who chairs the Senate Education Committee.

If passed, Senate Bill 1029 would clarify the way the State Board of Education spends money to help low-performing schools. A $750,000 line item would go toward school improvement efforts, building on a program already under way in six districts. A separate $1 million would go to train turnaround experts.

The State Board already gets this money. But Mortimer says he would like to pursue another $1.25 million to expand the program to an additional seven to nine sites.

At least a dozen states have turnaround laws, Mortimer said Friday. Utah passed its version of the law in 2014, and low-performing schools posted a 37 percent improvement in literacy rates and a 29 percent improvement in math scores. “They had a long way to go, but they still saw significant improvement,” he said.

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Unlike Utah’s law, Idaho’s turnaround schools program would be voluntary. But the State Board could cut funding for a school that continues to struggle, even after a three-year process and a two-year extension.

The State Board endorsed SB 1029 Thursday.

This year’s turnaround bill passed 22-11, a closer margin than last year’s 28-7 Senate vote.

All the no votes came from Republicans: Jeff Agenbroad, Nampa; Regina Bayer, Meridian; Bert Brackett, Rogerson; Don Cheatham, Post Falls; Carl Crabtree, Grangeville; Lori Den Hartog, Meridian; Abby Lee, Fruitland; Jim Rice, Caldwell; Mary Souza, Coeur d’Alene; Steve Vick, Dalton Gardens; and Jim Woodward, Sagle.

Rules review fight heats up

A fight over administrative rules took center stage on the House floor Friday.

Representatives voted 53-16 to pass House Bill 100, which would require administrative rules to pass both legislative chambers before being enacted.

Currently, it is enough for one chamber to pass a rule for it to be approved — even if the chambers disagree.

Friday’s debate represented the boiling point in a rulemaking argument that has raged for years. The debate lasted more than 45 minutes, featured passionate floor speeches and spilled well over into the lunch hour — a rare occurrence in a Legislature that often schedules light Fridays to facilitate travel schedules.

At the heart of the debate is a fight over checks and balances and the role of government.

Each year, state agencies present rules for review by the Legislature, which can approve rules, reject them or reject them in part. Once approved, rules have the force of law.

The three-year battle over science standards in the House and Senate education committees serves as a good microcosm for the entire debate over HB 100 and rulemaking. Last year, the House Education Committee voted to remove a standard and supporting content referencing global warming and fossil fuels from a proposed slate of new academic science standards that State Department of Education officials had spent years developing, in concert with teachers and industry professionals. However, the Senate Education Committee approved the science standards in full, allowing them to go forward.

That infuriated several House members, who said they felt like all the time they spent scrutinizing the standards was wasted.

“I was shocked,” said Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls.

Opponents say the HB 100 would give unchecked power to committee chairs, who would be able to kill off any rule by simply refusing to hear it and, thus, preventing one chamber from approving it.

“This bill, quite honestly, is going to run into a separation of powers issue,” said House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise.

House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, the bill’s sponsor, said his aim is to treat rules the same as laws. That means both chambers have to approve them for them to pass.

“This is nothing more than keeping the power and authority the Constitution gave you,” Moyle said.

In the end, the bill passed largely along party lines. Only two House Republicans — Reps Fred Wood, R-Burley, and Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, voted with the chamber’s 14 Democrats in opposing the bill. For context, both Clow and Wood serve as committee chairmen; Clow heads House Education.

HB 100 next heads to the Senate.

Whatever happens to HB 100, the rules debate continues. Already this year, the House and Senate education committees find themselves at odds over a rule addressing senior math requirements and the senior project. Senate Education approved the rule last month, while House Education took longer to act and ultimately voted to reject the senior math requirement.

Levy disclosure bill advances

In other action Friday, the House voted unanimously to pass a bill to require attaching cost estimates to ballot language for all levy elections.

Pushed by first-year Rep. Doug Ricks, R-Rexburg, House Bill 103 would require the county clerk to estimate the average cost for property owners based on $100,000 of property value and the length of time for the levy.

HB 103 next heads to the Senate for consideration.

Idaho Education News reporter Clark Corbin contributed to this report.

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