The House Education Committee killed a draft bill aimed at starting a state-funded, voluntary pre-kindergarten program.
Committee members, led by Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, killed the Idaho School Readiness Act on Friday, refusing to introduce the bill. The move does more than kill the bill for the year. Because the vote came during an introductory hearing, which are usually short and routine, it dealt a serious blow to early childhood education advocates. They had hoped to get the bill introduced, and start a larger debate about early childhood education.
According to a new report from Education Commission of the States, Idaho is just one of four states that does not fund preschool.
Rep. Paul Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Idaho Business For Education President Rod Gramer pushed for the bill’s introduction.
Gramer said early childhood education was the top priority among IBE’s approximately 200 members.
“Year after year after year, these hard-nosed business leaders in our state — by an overwhelming majority — say early childhood education should be the No. 1 priority we have because it forms the foundation of all learning.”
Most House Education Republicans weren’t convinced.
After referencing PTA testimony from another hearing about how early childhood education programs can introduce education fundamentals through play, Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, said the state shouldn’t be spending taxpayer dollars to teach 4-year-olds to play.
“My question to her was we’re going to spend all of this money to teach 3- and 4-year-olds, who inherently should know how to play, how to play,” Ehardt said. “What is the purpose of preschool and this bill that you are bringing?”
DeMordaunt said the education budget was already spread too thin this year.
“In another year or in the future it might merit future discussions,” she said, “but at this point, we already know revenues are low or slow to come in given the tax changes.”
Amador pointed out that the bill set up a structure of early childhood learning, and would not affect the budget unless the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee chose to approve funding. According to the bill, any early childhood education program would be “subject to available funding.”
The bill would have required local community groups to match any state funding.
The bill would have instructed the State Department of Education to “establish a voluntary statewide school readiness program using an evidence-based curriculum…” The bill would have allowed home-based or site-based programs.
Legislators twice attempted to cut off Amador and Gramer, saying they were taking too much time and getting too far into the weeds for a simple introductory hearing.
“Is this an (introductory) hearing or a full hearing?” asked Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, about 18 minutes into the discussion.
Generally speaking, introductory hearings are brief affairs. Sponsors generally present a simple argument in hopes of bringing a bill back for a full hearing. In the Senate Education Committee, for example, legislators have sometimes devoted only a minute or two to introductory hearings.
Amador offered an apology, saying that he was simply excited about a proposal that he believed in. Efforts to speed up the hearing clearly angered Rep. Steve Berch, a Boise Democrat who opposed killing the bill.
“If this body has the time to talk about getting rid of daylight saving time and just about everything else that comes before us, we certainly have time to have an intelligent and thoughtful debate on probably the single most important issue for our state, which is the education of our children,” Berch said.
Clow attempted to cut off Berch’s comment for referencing a different bill —after which Berch said he was only trying to make point.
In the end, Reps. John McCrostie, D-Garden City, Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, Berch and Clow voted against killing the bill. The committee’s other 10 Republicans voted to kill it.
School board executive session
In other action Friday, House Education approved a bill to tweak the rules under which a school board could enter into a closed-door executive session.
If House Bill 150 passes, school boards that are experiencing vacancies would be able to enter into an executive session based on a simple majority vote as opposed to the current requirement of a two-thirds supermajority.
The Idaho School Boards Association and Rep. Bill Goesling, a former school trustee, pushed for the bill. Goesling, R-Moscow, said if a five-member school board faces two vacancies — such as through a retirement, recall, illness or death — the board would not have the numbers to enter into an executive session. Therefore, the school board would not be able to address issues such as personnel matters or student discipline.
Jody Hendrickx, a school board member from St. Maries, used the Legislature’s videoconferencing remote testimony program to address lawmakers from North Idaho College. He supported the bill.
“It has happened in St. Maries in the past,” Hendrickx said. “We had trouble filing two vacancies, I know from personal experience.”
HB 150 next heads to the full House with a recommendation it passes.
Senate passes charter administrators’ bill
A bill to create new — and alternative — standards for charter school administrators is headed to the House.
Senate Bill 1058 would allow charters to go around the traditional certification process. An administrator would have to hold a bachelor’s degree, meet one of several work experience requirements and pass a criminal background check. The administrator would also need to receive training on teacher evaluations, and produce a letter from the charter’s board that says trustees are “committed to overseeing the applicant’s performance.”
Supporters say the bill would allow charter schools to hire a leader with a background in business, budgeting or human resources. It would also allow charters to recruit experienced administrators from other states. In most of the 40 states with charters, administrators do not need to receive a state certificate — and as a result, they cannot move to a job in Idaho, said Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, the bill’s sponsor.
“(Charters) are the testing ground,” she said. “I think we can do this without hurting our students.”
Opponents painted SB 1058 as a money grab, which would allow charters to hire a less qualified administrator, while collecting full state funding for administrative positions. They also said the relaxed standards would compromise learning.
“I think this bill moves us in the wrong direction,” said Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise.
SB 1058 passed 21-12, over bipartisan objections. Voting no were Republican Sens. Bert Brackett of Rogerson, Jim Guthrie of Inkom, Mark Harris of Soda Springs, Dan Johnson of Lewiston and Abby Lee of Fruitland; and Democratic Sens. Cherie Buckner-Webb of Boise, Maryanne Jordan of Boise, David Nelson of Moscow, Mark Nye of Pocatello, Michelle Stennett of Ketchum, Janie Ward-Engelking of Boise and Burgoyne.
A similar bill passed both houses in 2018, but Gov. Butch Otter vetoed it on the final day of the session.
Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert contributed to this report.