Statehouse roundup, 2.19.15: School tax shift, and more …

House Majority Leader Mike Moyle wants schools to get a share of the property taxes collected from new growth.

And on Thursday morning, the House Revenue and Taxation Committee introduced Moyle’s bill.

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House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, explains his proposal to siphon 50 percent of property taxes from new growth into school building projects.

The bill would allow school districts and charter schools to collect 50 percent of the property taxes from new construction — and use it as a one-time stipend to offset the cost of building bond issues, building improvements or safety-related repairs.

These new property taxes, nearly $20 million statewide in 2014, now go to local taxing districts. But since this money rolls in after local taxing districts set their budgets, Moyle described it as “bonus money.”

The local governments would eventually receive the money from new construction, but under this bill, it would take two years.

Since Thursday’s hearing was only an introductory “print” hearing for Moyle’s bill, no one testified for or against the proposal. But the turnout for Thursday’s hearing foreshadowed the interest in the bill — and the support or opposition. Lobbyists for education groups were on hand, as was Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry lobbyist Alex LaBeau, who came out in favor of the bill in an interview with the Idaho Statesman this week. Also attending was Dan Chadwick of the Idaho Association of Counties.

West Ada School District Superintendent Linda Clark and trustee Mike Vuittonet attended Thursday’s hearing — and afterwards, they said the bill could save taxpayer money in the long run.

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“Over time, it would mean a lot of money for the patrons of the West Ada School District,” Clark said.

Statewide, schools would have received $9.9 million in 2014 under this bill. Clark is not sure how much West Ada would have received — but she said this bill would allow the district to save up money and reduce the price tag on bond issues.

This bill would have no effect on the $96 million bond issue West Ada will take to voters on March 10.

Revenue and Taxation voted unanimously to print Moyle’s bill, but not without some questions from both sides of the aisle.

Rep. Clark Kauffman, a Filer Republican who also serves as a local highway district commissioner, said local governments rely on new property tax revenues to respond to the pressures of growth. Rep. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, questioned the premise of a bill that presumes local governments are “overly flush with resources.”

In other Thursday Statehouse education news:

Budget parameters. The budget-setting Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee backed Gov. Butch Otter’s revenue projection. Budget-writers will use Otter’s 5.5 percent revenue growth projection as they begin setting individual state agency budgets next week.

But enrollment growth could lead to a tighter-than-expected school budget, according to Betsy Russell of the Spokane Spokesman-Review.

Otter anticipated enrollment growth to correspond to 87 support units, or classroom units. But JFAC will use a projection of 167 additional support units, Russell reports.

That translates into about $7 million more than Otter considered when he called for a 7.4 percent increase in school funding in 2015-16.

On Friday morning, JFAC will hold a budget public hearing at 8 a.m. at the Statehouse’s Lincoln Auditorium.

The 2015-16 public school budget is tentatively scheduled to be set March 12.

ISAT alternative. The Senate Education Committee endorsed a bill to allow parents to pull their high school students out of the Idaho Standards Achievement Test.

Parents may have several reasons for wanting to opt out, said Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, one of the bill’s co-sponsors. Parents may not like a high-stakes test, which students must pass in order to graduate. Some students struggle with tests. Parents may not like the length, structure or content of the test.

Much of Thursday afternoon’s debate centered on federal funding. Under Idaho’s waiver from the No Child Left Behind law, 95 percent of students would be required to take the ISAT this spring. If Idaho fails to hit that mark, federal funding could be at risk — possibly a $620,000 share of the state’s $62 million in Title I funding.

Supporters said the feds would be unlikely to pull funding. But for three education stakeholder groups — the Idaho Education Association, the Idaho School Boards Association and the Idaho Association of School Administrators — the funding issue represented one of their concerns. “We just aren’t willing to take that risk,” said ISBA executive director Karen Echeverria, speaking on the groups’ behalf.

Senate Bill 1070 passed the committee over the objections of Boise Democrats Cherie Buckner-Webb and Janie Ward-Engelking. It now goes to the Senate floor.

‘Pay for success contracts.’ Two Idaho legislators have teamed up to propose what they believe is an alternative way to pay for school programs.

Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian, and Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, convinced the House Education Committee to introduce a bill Thursday to create what they call “pay for success contracts.”

Under the proposal, private companies would be able to partner with the State Department of Education for a new type of contract on education initiatives. Private companies would bear the full financial responsibility of paying for the contracts, until a third party judged the programs to successfully save state money.

The state’s payment obligations would be negotiated into the original contract, and would be paid if the program saves money.

“This is an alternative means to foster innovation in our schools and provide an alternate means for funding them,” Harris said.

Any contract issued in this manner would need to involve “an evidence-based program” to enhance student achievement.

Lawmakers appeared skeptical, but voted to introduce the bill, which clears the way for a full hearing at a later date.

“I’m trying to figure what problem are we trying to fix,” said Rep. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth. “What data do we have showing there is a problem? Is this a solution in search of a problem?”

Harris replied that there is no specific problem, but the new contracts would be “a broad tool” that could be used “for any number of reasons.” The state would still be able to enter into more traditional contracts.

Idaho Education News’ Kevin Richert and Clark Corbin contributed to this report.

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