Statehouse roundup, 2.23.22: Empowering Parents Grants bill heads to governor’s desk

A bill to bring back a $50 million education grant program is headed to the governor’s desk.

With little discussion, the House passed Senate Bill 1255, which would set up the Empowering Parents Grants program.

One of Gov. Brad Little’s education proposals for 2022, the federally funded program would provide grants of up to $1,000 per student or $3,000 per family. Like its predecessor, the 2020 Strong Families, Strong Students program, the grants could cover a variety of education-related expenses, from laptops to physical therapy. Families with an income of $60,000 or less would get first shot at the grants.

SB 1255’s House floor sponsor, Rep. Wendy Horman, said the bill reflects Little’s understanding of the role parents play in crafting their kids’ education.

“This will allow them to customize and support it, in new ways,” said Horman, R-Idaho Falls.

There was no debate for or against the bill. Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, asked Horman about language in SB 1255, a plan to use nearly $1.2 million of state money to administer the grants. Horman said the idea is to make sure the full $50 million of federal money goes to families who need it.

These administrative costs could be a sticking point. On Tuesday, a divided Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee passed a followup spending bill that would authorize the federal grants, but doesn’t put any state money into program administration.

The House and Senate will have to pass a spending bill in order to launch the Empowering Parents Grants program.

SB 1255 passed on a 67-1 vote, with only Rep. Karey Hanks, R-St. Anthony, in opposition.

Attempt to regulate school club participation returns

A new bill would prohibit students from joining school clubs without their parents’ consent.

Schools would also have to track which clubs are sanctioned, what activities clubs are facilitating and when clubs are leaving campus.

Bill sponsor Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, brought a similar bill forward last year, and it passed through the House but didn’t get a committee hearing in the Senate. At the time, she advocated for her bill’s ability to block progressive “activist” clubs associated with Black Lives Matter, Planned Parenthood and “human rights” from being formed, since school boards would have to approve the sanctioning of new clubs.

Ehardt’s pitch was different as she presented this year’s version to House Education Wednesday.

“In no way is this trying to prevent … certain clubs from being on the high school campus. It’s a parental rights bill,” she said.

Last year, some critics said the effort was an attempt to stop students with disapproving parents from joining gay-straight alliances, young Democrats and young Republicans clubs.

The House Education Committee introduced the repeat bill on party lines Wednesday, with Democrats opposing it. It can now receive a full hearing.

Curriculum adoption committees could be mandatory

A divided house Education Committee voted Wednesday to require that school districts form 12-member curriculum adoption committees.

The committees would have to be comprised of six parents, three teachers, one administrator, one school board trustee and one community member. The advisory groups wouldn’t have decision-making power.

A parent and a grandparent from the Power2Parent Union – a “parental rights” group that organizes against mask mandates and perceived classroom indoctrination – testified in favor of the bill.

Kayla Dunn, who spoke to Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s anti-critical race theory task force over the summer, said, “there are parents in certain districts that have incredible relationships and they do feel like they are being heard, and there are others that have been shut out.”

Districts already have curriculum adoption committees but mandating that they find a dozen volunteers to serve on those committees could prove too difficult for small, rural districts, said Quinn Perry, Deputy Director of the Idaho School Boards Association.

“We are not stopping parents at the door,” said Karen Pyron, a school board trustee from Butte County. Though the Butte County School District does have parents advising curriculum adoption, “the ability to meet the numbers that are required within this bill is … nearly impossible.”

That issue became a sticking point. All committee Democrats and Reps. Lori McCann, R-Lewiston, and Julie Yamamoto, R-Caldwell, pushed to hold the bill in committee for a week, partly over those concerns. And Rep. Gary Marshall, R-Idaho Falls, backed the effort, out of concern the bill would create ambiguity for large districts that have multiple curriculum adoption committees to handle multiple subject areas.

The bill now heads to the House floor.

Levy transparency bill moves forward

A bill meant to foster greater transparency in supplemental levy elections is headed to the House floor.

House Bill 653 would require school districts to describe on the ballot what they’ll spend supplemental levy dollars on when they ask voters for property tax money. Districts would also have to honor those spending plans, or open changes up to public comment in a public meeting.

Currently, districts aren’t required to disclose which expenses supplemental levies covered. Under the new bill, they’d have to.

Rep. Steve Berch, D-Boise, was the only House Education member to oppose sending the bill to the floor in a Wednesday voice vote. He said the added expense breakdown on the ballot “will deter people from voting for it,” and that “it just looks like (districts are) spending more money when that may not be the case.”



Kevin Richert and Blake Jones

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday