Statehouse roundup, 2.25.22: Senate passes rural teacher incentives bill

A bill to provide up to $12,000 in rural teacher incentives is headed to the House.

The Senate Friday passed the incentives bill on a bipartisan 25-7 vote.

Senate Bill 1290 would provide a host of incentives: Teachers could receive grants to help cover their student loans, postgraduate studies, or the cost of getting an additional teaching endorsement. The grants would be available to teachers in rural or high-poverty districts.

Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, said SB 1290 would help address a teacher shortage in hard-hit rural communities. And she said the grants might encourage teachers to put down roots in small-town Idaho.

“They’re going to fall in love with the students, the parents and the lifestyle that exists there,” said Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, a retired teacher.

Debate was brief, and one-sided, with Senate Education Committee members of both parties praising the bill.

Committee chairman Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, said the bill would provide one more recruiting tool for rural districts. Sen. Robert Blair, R-Kendrick, said the issue hits home: One of his local rural districts needed three months to find a teacher, in agriculture.

“The problems are real,” he said.

The incentives would start at $1,500 in the first year and max out at $4,500 in the fourth year — in hopes of encouraging teachers to stay longer.

It’s unclear how many teachers could receive the grants, or how much the program would cost. The Legislature would have to pass a companion spending bill to fund the program. Ward-Engelking, a member of the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, said the state could use federal coronavirus aid to cover costs.

The bill received support from 18 Senate Republicans and all seven Senate Democrats. Seven Republicans voted no: Kelly Anthon, Burley; Regina Bayer, Meridian; Lori Den Hartog, Meridian; Mark Harris, Soda Springs; Todd Lakey, Nampa; Doug Ricks, Rexburg; and Christy Zito, Hammett.

SB 1290 now heads to the House.

Ward-Engelking and Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, have proposed other versions of teacher incentive bills in past sessions. This is the first time such a bill has passed the Senate.

More Friday news

Enrollment-based funding proposal is back. The House Education Committee introduced a rewrite of a bill with far-reaching implications for school funding.

The bill would make permanent the state’s pandemic-era switch from basing school funding on schools’ average daily attendance to basing funding on schools’ total enrollment numbers. (Here’s an explainer on the issue).

The rewrite makes a technical fix and clears up confusion that sidetracked the committee’s hearing on the original bill earlier this week.

Nearly an hour of debate focused on whether the change would allow schools to operate in blended learning models, collecting funding from the state even when students aren’t in their seats.

Rep. Gary Marshall, R-Idaho Falls, raised the concern, but joined fellow committee members in supporting the general idea of the bill.

The bill can now receive a full hearing. That could come as soon as Tuesday, said Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls.

Arts education grants. Senate Bill 1292 would appropriate $1 million for State Board of Education grants to support school arts programs. After passing the House 40-27 with only GOP opposition, it heads to the governor’s desk.


Kevin Richert and Blake Jones

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