Statehouse roundup, 2.15.22: Curriculum adoption could change under new bills

Pressed up against a deadline to introduce new legislation, the House Education Committee printed eight new bills in short order Tuesday.

The proposals touch on a diverse mix of education issues, from curriculum adoption to mandatory drug tests for substitute teachers to publicizing school levy spending.

Curriculum adoption. This bill would change Idaho law from saying school districts “may” adopt their own curricular materials to saying they “shall” do so. Bill sponsor Rep. Judy Boyle told the committee not all school districts adopt curricular materials, necessitating the change.

The bill would also mandate that school boards approve all “supplemental curriculum.” Boyle cited an incident that drew the ire of a parent group last fall in calling for greater curriculum oversight.

The Power2Parent Union, a group that organizes against masks, alleged leftist indoctrination and other issues it describes as “parental rights,” went to media outlets and the Weiser School District in October to decry one teacher’s assignment of the Allen Ginsberg poem “Howl.” Boyle, R-Midvale, repeated the parents’ claims that the poem is “pornographic” Tuesday, but stopped short of echoing allegations that the assignment was “criminal.”

Committee members on both sides of the aisle questioned the bill’s lack of a definition for “supplemental curriculum,” but ultimately introduced it. Only Rep. Steve Berch, D-Boise, opposed printing the bill on a voice vote, pointing to the same issue.

Curriculum committees. Districts would be forced to establish committees to inform their adoption of curriculum — something they have the option of doing now — under another new bill from Boyle.

The 12-member committees would have to be comprised of six parents, three teachers, one administrator, one school board member and one community member.

The proposal comes on the heels of a school board election cycle where parent involvement in picking learning materials was front and center.

Berch was again the lone dissenter in a vote to introduce the bill.

Drug testing for subs. A third bill from Boyle would mandate that substitute teachers pass a drug test before teaching. Subs would “not be required to pass an additional drug test within (30) days to work in another district,” but the bill doesn’t say how often they’d have to be tested to continue teaching in the same district.

The bill also doesn’t lay out whether districts or subs would have to cover the costs of testing. The attached fiscal note claims the change would have no fiscal impact to the state general fund or local governments.

The bill would also mandate that subs receive a background check every two years, rather than every five years, as is required now.

Rep. Lori McCann, R-Lewiston, joined the committee’s three Democrats in opposing the bill, saying it would be “onerous” for school districts to facilitate testing while they’re already struggling to find substitute teachers.

Health insurance funding. Under this bill, districts and charters would have to spend state funding appropriated for school employees’ health insurance solely on health insurance.

As the Legislature mulls appropriating added funding for school employees’ health insurance, there’s nothing requiring districts or charters to spend any leftover money on health insurance.

The unanimously introduced bill would also look to ensure that retired school administrators and teachers can continue using their accrued sick days to pay for health insurance.

School levy ‘transparency.’ This bill would require school districts to describe on the ballot what they will spend property taxes on when they attempt to pass a supplemental levy. They’d also have to publicly post a breakdown of how they spent levy funds each year.

“As the state makes investments … we want to make sure that taxpayers are not paying twice,” said sponsor Rep. Wendy Horman.

The bill is also meant to require districts to keep their word and spend levy dollars on the costs they originally laid out on the ballot, said Horman, R-Idaho Falls.

Districts would have flexibility to spend up to 10% of supplemental levy funds on unplanned purchases, if budget tweaks are needed following a levy vote.

Berch was again the lone dissenter in a vote to introduce the bill, saying he supports the “transparency” Horman touted, but that he doesn’t see an evident problem with how levies are spent that warrants a legislative response.

Of his multiple dissenting votes, Berch told EdNews, “I think the days of … print hearings being a rubber stamp really need to end.”

“If we’re going to write laws that affect the entire state, we need to have some evidence that there’s a clear and present issue at hand before we start doing so. For me, proposing bills to solve a problem of a singular incident is not the best use of the … legislative process.”

Counselor licensing requirements. This bill would allow districts and charters to hire licensed professional counselors and licensed clinical professional counselors to serve as school counselors. Both of those titles require a master’s degree and at least 1,000 hours of experience.

The Idaho School Boards Association backed the bill in hopes of filling a shortage in school counselors.

The bill was introduced unanimously.

Dueling dyslexia bills. After State Department of Education officials on Monday opposed one bill meant to help students with dyslexia, the SDE forwarded a competing proposal Tuesday.

The State Department’s bill:

  • Defines dyslexia in Idaho code.
  • Says the SDE will implement a dyslexia handbook that the State Board of Education is currently working on to help give educators information about helping students with dyslexia.
  • Requires that reading plans use the handbook’s strategies to help students with dyslexia.

The bill differs from the one introduced Monday in a key way: Professional development for teachers, increased screenings and more would only have to be built out if the Legislature appropriates extra money to the State Department to cover costs.

That also goes for requirements in the State Department’s bill that it hire a dyslexia specialist, and support districts as they screen for dyslexia in K-3 students.

“It is essential that we detect dyslexia and other obstacles to learning as early as possible, so that kids who learn differently can still learn effectively, and so that our teachers have the tools they need to better understand and meet individual students’ needs,” state superintendent Sherri Ybarra said in a press release sent to reporters Tuesday afternoon.

Ybarra was at a Land Board meeting and couldn’t make the House Education meeting, but the State Department press release said the dyslexia bill is a “top legislative priority” for her.

There will have to be a “reckoning” of the two bills at some point, said Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls.

Unlike the House version, Senate Bill 1280 wouldn’t call for more state funding for the State Department. SB 1280 is now awaiting consideration in the Senate.

Career ladder placement. A rewrite of the previously introduced House Bill 544, which would allow teachers coming from out of state or administrators returning to teaching to earn salaries comparable to similarly experienced Idaho teachers. The new version makes some technical changes.

Charter teacher certification bill goes to Senate floor

Voting along party lines, the Senate Education Committee advanced a bill to ease qualifications for charter school teachers.

Senate Bill 1291 would allow charter schools to hire an applicant with a bachelor’s degree — as opposed to certified applicants.

The vote came after more than an hour of testimony, running largely in favor of the proposal.

Charter school advocates argued for the increased flexibility, and questioned the value of teacher certifications in the first place.

“It is the years of experience that made me the educator I am,” said Michelle Ball, executive director of Alturas International Academy in Idaho Falls. Ball was one of several Alturas staff members who testified, via Zoom, in favor of the bill.

Noting that the state already allows nine options for a teacher to get an alternative certification, Northwest Nazarene University College of Education Dean LoriAnn Sanchez questioned the need for SB 1291.

Idaho Education Association executive director Paul Stark called the bill “an insult” to professional teachers, since the non-certified charter teachers would also be eligible to move up the state’s salary career ladder.

Committee discussion was similarly split — even among teachers on the panel.

Chairman Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, said charter schools are a good place to try a mentorship-based approach to training, since charters often follow a non-traditional curriculum.

Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, said SB 1291 is no way to address the schools’ teacher shortages, predicting that the bill might drive qualified educators out of the profession.

If it passes, SB 1291 would give charter schools the option of creating a school-specific charter certificate. Another charter school could choose to honor these unique certificates, but they would not transfer to a traditional public school.

SB 1291 will head to the floor for possible amendments, before a potential vote.

In a zone? Bill would revamp community college elections

A bill to reshape community college trustee elections made its debut Tuesday.

Currently, trustees must live in five separate zones — but they all are elected across the community college’s entire district. In the case of the College of Western Idaho, that requires all five trustees to run across all of Ada and Canyon counties.

Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, is proposing a bill to elect trustees by zone.

The House State Affairs Committee introduced the bill, which means it could come back later for a full hearing.

Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert contributed to this story. 

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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