Statehouse roundup, 2.18.22: Another education savings account bill comes forward

A new education savings account (ESA) proposal introduced Friday would give families wide latitude to spend state dollars on education-related expenses.

Dubbed the “Hope and Opportunity Scholarship Program” by its sponsors, the ESAs would allow eligible families to spend around $5,950 per student on eligible expenses.

Unlike an ESA bill for kindergarten families and a proposed family grant program, the new bill would allow families to cover private school tuition and fees out of their accounts. Inclusion of private school expenses has been a sticking point with education stakeholders in the past as pro-school choice lawmakers have failed to establish similar programs.

Reps. Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, and Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, brought the new ESA bill forward in the House Education Committee Friday.

“This act would allow dollars to follow students so parents could access education services that work best for their children,” Moon said.

The ESAs could also cover private tutoring, Advanced Placement tests, speech-language therapy and a batch of other costs.

The bill estimates a total price tag of $12.7 million in the first year, which would begin July 1, 2023.

House Education introduced the bill on party lines, but not without questions.

Rep. Gary Marshall questioned whether a piece of the bill allowing parents to rate educational services on a state website would open the state up to legal challenges.

“How would that happen without getting us in deep mucka lucka?” Marshall, R-Idaho Falls, asked with a chuckle.

Rep. Julie Yamamoto, R-Caldwell, expressed concern the program would come with administrative costs not laid out in the bill’s fiscal note, where financial impacts of bills are spelled out.

Those questions could be addressed if the bill receives a full committee hearing, as it now can.

House passes ‘self-directed learner’ bill

A bill establishing a “self-directed learner” designation cleared its last legislative hurdle as the House passed it unanimously.

It would allow academically motivated K-12 students to earn the label from their teachers, giving them greater flexibility to learn in and outside the classroom. That would include allowing schools to count self-directed learners as always in attendance, even if they’re not, so the school can collect attendance-based funding from the state.

Senate Bill 1238 now just needs Gov. Brad Little’s signature to become law. It would take effect July 1.

Civics standards proposal passes Senate

Without debate, the Senate approved a resolution to create standalone academic standards in civics.

The standards are now part of the state’s social studies standards.

“Stand-alone civics standards would better support student understanding of our nation’s system of government and the opportunities and responsibilities of citizenship,” reads the resolution, co-sponsored by state superintendent Sherri Ybarra and Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls.

After Friday’s unanimous Senate voice vote, Senate Concurrent Resolution 115 heads to the House.

Community college election makeover heads to House floor

A bill to reshape community college elections will head to the House floor.

Under House Bill 645, trustee candidates would run in five separate community college zones.

Trustees already represent separate zones — but their at-large elections cover the entire community college district.

So while trustee elections tend to be low-key and low-cost, candidates still have to campaign across a broad geographic area, said Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, the bill’s sponsor. For the College of Western Idaho, for instance, candidates must campaign across Ada and Canyon counties.

The House State Affairs Committee voted to send HB 645 to the floor, but not without opposition. Reps. Vito Barbieri and Karey Hanks voted against it. Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, said he was concerned that the bill could allow the State Board of Education to appoint multiple members to a community college board.

The House could vote on HB 645 next week.

COSSA/KTEC bill heads to House floor

Multi-district partnerships receive state funding for career-technical education programs, despite a technical flaw in the law that should prevent them from doing so.

Those cooperative service agencies, including the Canyon-Owyhee School Service Agency in Wilder and the Kootenai Technical Education Campus in Rathdrum, would legally be allowed to continue receiving funding under Senate Bill 1247, which unanimously passed House Education with no debate.

The bill now heads to the House floor.

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