Statehouse roundup, 2.24.22: House Ed backs drug testing for subs in narrow vote

Rep. Judy Boyle

The House Education Committee narrowly passed a bill to require schools to drug test substitute teachers before hiring them.

The bill would also increase the frequency of mandatory background checks for subs from every five years to every two.

Sponsor Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, said substitute teaching “is a very easy way to access children and sell drugs to them,” and argued a testing mandate could help cut off drug trafficking into schools.

And she railed against drug trafficking more broadly.

“I had my gun stolen right before Christmas, and I began to learn a lot about what’s going on in Idaho with drugs. I discovered that a lot of people don’t have any idea the amount of drugs that are pouring in — mostly on the southern border,” Boyle said.

Two school officials and the Idaho School Boards Association opposed the bill, citing added strain on districts, lack of funding for the mandate, and lack of evidence of a problem. Currently, substitutes already have to undergo pre-employment background checks and fingerprinting, which would catch any drug-related convictions on their records.

Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, broke a 7-7 tie, sending House Bill 651 to the House floor.

But first, a long debate brought pivotal questions to the surface.

Are substitutes selling drugs to students? When asked, three experts told committee members they weren’t aware of any substitute teachers who have been arrested for dealing drugs to students: Idaho State Police Lt. Colonel Sheldon Kelley, Clearwater County Sheriff Chris Goetz and ISBA Executive Director Misty Swanson.

But Boyle said parents have “tremendous concerns” about the issue. She told a story from her sophomore year of high school when a first-year English teacher made her class listen to a Beatles song about LSD “every single day” and was later caught selling drugs to a student. The student overdosed years later, “not on marijuana, but a lot of other things” Boyle said.

Would mandatory testing be ‘onerous’ for districts? No one disputed that schools are struggling with substitute teacher shortages, but committee members and speakers were split on whether mandatory testing would exacerbate the issue.

Rep. Darrell Hancock, filling in for Rep. Codi Galloway, R-Boise, said he tried to become a sub in the West Ada School District, but never completed the paperwork, background check and other requirements because they were too burdensome.

“I quickly discovered this is not worth my time. The barriers were so strong,” Hancock said, adding that requiring more time and money of potential subs could exacerbate existing shortages. Swanson agreed.

Vice Chairman Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, said he didn’t see drug testing as onerous.

“I’m really bothered … by the testimony that this is gonna make it harder to get subs. That’s a really troubling statement,” said Kerby, a former superintendent. “Who in the world are we allowing into our schools?”

How would testing work? Boyle believed districts could easily issue on-the-spot saliva tests, at a cost of $5 per test.

West Ada human resources head David Roberts said otherwise, pointing to a piece of Idaho law linked to the bill, which lays out a long list of requirements for state-mandated drug testing. He said such testing could only be performed by a third-party drug testing lab, raising costs and making testing more burdensome.

The price tag to districts also remained a question mark. Boyle said districts could choose whether to pay for tests, or force substitutes to do so.

The bill doesn’t include any money for testing, as Butte County School Board trustee Karen Pyron pointed out.

“We’ve got this,” Pyron said. “We don’t need an unfunded mandate.”

Districts already drug test teachers and substitutes if administrators have suspicions. The bill would not change optional testing for full-time teachers.

The opposing votes came from the committee’s three Democrats — Reps. Steve Berch of Boise, John McCrostie of Garden City and Sally Toone of Gooding — and four Republicans: Lori McCann of Lewiston, Gary Marshall of Idaho Falls, Julie Yamamoto of Caldwell and Hancock.

House Ed prints three bills

House Education also introduced three bills Thursday.

Campus free speech bill. This bipartisan bill is meant to protect free speech on college and university campuses. It’s co-sponsored by McCrostie and Idaho Falls Republican Rep. Barbara Ehardt.

Parents teaching drivers ed. This bill would allow parents to teach their children how to drive in lieu of sending them to public or private drivers education courses. Minors would still have to pass driving tests, but wouldn’t have to pass a drivers ed course to get a driving permit, as they do now.

Postsecondary scholarship eligibility. This is a rewrite of a bill expanding eligibility for a state scholarship program, which matches college scholarship money awarded by private businesses. This bill would axe a requirement that private scholarships are awarded based on a student’s GPA.

The rewrite adds that if a business owner awards a scholarship to a close relative, that scholarship wouldn’t qualify. Nepotism concerns sidetracked an earlier version of the bill.

House Education sent formally introduced the rewritten bill and motioned for it to go straight to the House floor, an uncommon move. Typically, bills are introduced one day, and then a committee sends them to the floor on another day after a full public hearing. Because the earlier version of the bill already received a full hearing, committee members took the unusual step. House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, can reject the move if he chooses, bouncing the bill back to House Education.

Trustee recall bill heads to House floor

The House State Affairs Committee quickly passed a bill designed to make sure voters replace recalled school trustees.

House Bill 671 would kick in if voters recall a trustee, or if a trustee resigns under the threat of a recall. In either case, voters would elect a successor on the next possible election date. If a seat would be left vacant for more than 120 days, school boards could choose a temporary trustee.

Sponsored by Ehardt and Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, HB 671 now goes to the House floor for a vote.

Lightning round on the House floor

Moving quickly Thursday morning, the House passed three education bills:

  • Senate Bill 1247, a clarification that will allow the Canyon-Owyhee School Service Agency in Wilder and the Kootenai Technical Education Campus in Rathdrum to collect state career-technical funding. With Thursday’s 66-1 vote, this goes to Gov. Brad Little.
  • House Bill 654, which would allow licensed professional counselors and licensed clinical professional counselors to work as school counselors. It passed unanimously and now goes to the Senate.
  • House Bill 656, which clarifies school staff placement on the salary career ladder. This bill would generally apply to teachers moving in from out of state, or moving from a parochial school to a public school. It also passed unanimously and goes to the Senate.

Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert contributed to this report. 

Blake Jones

About Blake Jones

Reporter Blake Jones covers the politics and policy of Idaho's K-12 public school system. He's a lifelong Idahoan, and holds degrees in Creative Writing and Political Economy from the College of Idaho. Follow Blake on Twitter @jonesblakej. He can be reached by email at [email protected]

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