Statehouse roundup, 2.20.15: Parental rights bill heads to House floor

House State Affairs Committee members agreed on one point: Parental involvement is a key to a strong education system.

They didn’t all agree about whether Rep. Janet Trujillo’s parental rights bill is the right vehicle to get there.

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Rep. Janet Trujillo, R-Idaho Falls

Ultimately, the committee sent her House Bill 113 to the House floor, with the recommendation that it pass.

The one-page bill asserts that parents and legal guardians have “a fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care, custody, education and control of their children.”

Friday morning’s committee debate focused on the mention of education — and the definition of legal guardians.

Rep. Melissa Wintrow, an educator and Boise Democrat, said she wants to see parents involved in education. But she pointed out that the state has a clear interest in education — as evidenced by the Legislature’s education committees, Gov. Butch Otter’s education reform task force, and legislative campaigns that often focus on education topics.

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Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise

Other committee members said state law should make a strong statement that will encourage parents to be engaged in their children’s education. “We must do everything we can to get our parents involved,” said Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa.

Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, echoed opponents who wanted a more clear definition of legal guardians. However, he believes the Senate will be able to amend the bill and clear up this loophole, if the bill passes the House.

Friday’s vote came after a lengthy public hearing Thursday that focused on legality. For example, lawmakers discussed an analysis from Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane, done at Wintrow’s request. As Nathan Brown of the Twin Falls Times-News reported, Kane believes Trujillo’s bill would fundamentally change state law, since it could allow parents to direct their children’s education in a manner that does not comply with mandatory laws and standards. Legal counsel for the Idaho Supreme Court also questioned the “legal guardian” definition, Brown reported.

On Friday, Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, suggested the judicial branch is trying to usurp the legislative branch by objecting to the bill. “It’s clearly our responsibility to make the laws.”

The committee endorsed Trujillo’s bill on a 13-3 vote, with Boise Democrat John McCrostie joining the GOP majority.

A second parental rights bill, Senate Bill 1096, would allow parents to withdraw their children from any school activity that violates their family’s beliefs on sex, morality or religion.

In other Statehouse action Friday, members of the House of Representatives advanced a pair of bills aimed at implementing recommendations issued in 2013 by Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education.

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Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian

Mastery. Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian, won unanimous approval for a bill to create a pilot program to test out moving to a mastery-based system of education. Under the plan, students would no longer advance based on spending an academic year in class and receiving passing grades.

Instead, students would advance at their own pace based on subject mastery.

“(This) will have a direct impact on student performance,” Harris said. “The classroom of the future will shift to focus on outcomes, rather than input.”

Twenty school districts or charter schools would be able to participate in the mastery pilot, and report to the Legislature on its effectiveness. State Department of Education officials would also be authorized to lead a statewide awareness campaign highlighting mastery.

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Rep. Hy Kloc, D-Boise

Strategic planning. The second bill proved a little more controversial, but still passed comfortably. Boise Democratic Rep. Hy Kloc pushed to update last year’s law on school districts’ strategic planning and training. Kloc said House Bill 122 clarifies the focus for annual school improvement plans that align with statewide goals. The bill would also allow districts to receive up to $6,600 for training school board members.

Harris led the opposition, saying he was concerned about the funding for training.

“(School leaders) should be doing these kind things anyway,” Harris said. “ It shouldn’t require additional funding.”

Supporters of the bill, including House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, said school board members are often untrained volunteers who shoulder enormous responsibilities for helping lead local schools, and training is justified.

The bill passed 41-24.

Both pieces of legislation next head to the Senate, where their first stop is likely to be a hearing before the Senate Education Committee.