Statehouse roundup, 2.28.20: House passes teacher pay and school elections bills

More than 100 people — mainly students — crowded the third floor outside House and Senate chambers on Friday. Protesters urged legislators to reject a series of bills restricting transgender rights. The House passed a bill Wednesday to ban transgender girls and women from participating in girls’ or women’s sports. Sami Edge/Idaho Education News

(UPDATED: 5:14 p.m.,  to clarify Rep. Wendy Horman’s position.)

During an unusually long and contentious Friday floor session, the House set aside its differences to pass Gov. Brad Little’s $223 million proposal to increase pay for veteran teachers.

Based on a recommendation issued by Little’s “Our Kids, Idaho’s Future,” House Bill 523 would increase state funding for teacher salaries incrementally over five years.

At full build-out, the bill would create a path for experienced teachers who meet a new set of performance criteria to earn $63,000 annually. Currently, state payments for salaries top out at $50,000.

Sponsoring Rep. Bill Goesling, R-Moscow, said he was pushing the bill to recognize educators who had a profound effect on him when he was in school. He said the bill would help school districts, particularly those in border communities, retain the most successful veteran teachers. Without the bill, Goesling said many teachers would continue to cross state lines in search of easy pay raises.

For that reason, said Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, the bill has the potential to increase student achievement. “Retaining these experienced teachers then is the thing that may, in fact, move the needle.”

The bill does several things:

  • It creates a new advanced professional endorsement and adds a new advanced professional compensation rung to the state’s existing salary plan, the career ladder.
  • It creates a set of performance criteria educators must meet in order to earn the new endorsement and climb the career ladder.
  • It creates a new accountability system designed to ensure teacher evaluations are accurate. If school administrators do not follow state law and rule in conducting evaluations, their district or charter school would lose out on state funding for leadership premiums.
  • It creates new minimum salary guarantees designed to ensure the increased salary funding winds up in the hands of the right teachers.

“Today is our opportunity to step up and tell (teachers) thank you,” said Rep. Laurie Lickley, R-Jerome. “Last year, we talked about starting salaries. I think today is our opportunity to thank and respect our teachers who have been there on the front lines.”

Notably, Rep. Wendy Horman, an Idaho Falls Republican who serves as a vice chair of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, opposed the bill. Horman said she opposed the bill because she supports moving Idaho to a new funding formula based on students, not adults. She also said the Legislature has invested in teacher salaries for the past five years, and that she had concerns with the fiscal note attached to the bill.

Following adjournment, Horman told Idaho Education News she voted against the policy, but will support the funding.

Friday’s House floor session lasted from 10 a.m. until 4:15 p.m. — unusually long for a Legislature that often adjourns by noon on Fridays. The morning was marked by a series of unsuccessful procedural maneuvers over an abortion bill that brought the House to a standstill for nearly an hour. After that debate, hard feelings clearly lingered. House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, threatened to haul House members back in for a rare Saturday floor session to make up for lost time.

In the end, the House adjourned for the week without following through on the threat of a Saturday session.

House Bill 523 passed 52-10, with the dissenting votes all coming from Republicans: Horman; Moyle; Kevin Andrus, Lava Hot Springs; Chad Christensen, Ammon; Gary Collins, Nampa; Priscilla Giddings, White Bird; Steven Harris, Meridian; Tim Remington, Coeur d’Alene; Heather Scott; Blanchard; and Christy Zito, Hammett.

It next heads to the Senate for consideration. It is likely to be assigned to the Senate Education Committee.

School elections

The House passed a bill to eliminate school election dates in March and August.

Horman’s House Bill 393 would reduce the number of school election dates from four to two, and would require schools to run levy and bond issues in May or November.

Horman said the change is designed to increase turnout and voter awareness. She argued that turnout is lower in March and August, since some residents are unaware of school elections.

“In some cases, you can even have a few hundred people making taxing decisions for an entire district,” Horman said.

As Idaho Education News reported, districts are more likely to run supplemental levies or bond issues in March. From 2014 through 2019, 59 percent of bond and levy elections were held in March date, and 64 percent of supplemental levies took place in March.

House Education Committee Vice Chairman Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, opposed the bill after saying it would remove a tool school districts use in budgeting. Kerby, a retired school superintendent, said district officials set their budgets for the upcoming school year each spring. If they run a supplemental levy in March, they will know at that time whether the levy passes and the additional money will be available.

“You need to know what your revenues are when you’re setting your budget, that’s why this March date is so critical,” Kerby said.

In the end, Horman, a former school board member, said she doesn’t see any problems that school district can’t solve using the May or November election dates.

HB 393 passed 45-20 and heads next to the Senate.

Student protest

The simmering debate over transgender rights spilled over into the Statehouse rotunda during the late morning.

An Eagle High School student protests outside House and Senate chambers on Friday. Sami Edge/ Idaho Education News

More than 100 protesters — mainly students — crowded the third floor outside House and Senate chambers, urging legislators to reject a series of bills restricting transgender rights.

Students from Borah and Eagle high schools were among the hundred or so protestors that congregated at the Statehouse around lunchtime on Friday. Sami Edge/Idaho Education News

The protest came as the Senate was wrapping up its work for the week and as the House was mired in a marathon floor session. And it came on the heels of two controversial House votes.

On Wednesday, the House passed a bill to ban transgender girls and women from participating in girls’ or women’s sports. A day later, the House passed a bill banning transgender people from changing the sex listed on their birth certificates, in defiance of a 2018 federal court ruling.

More protests are expected next week.

Teaching licenses

A divided — and agonized — Senate approved a bill designed to keep some convicted felons from obtaining a teacher’s license.

Senate Bill 1323 would apply to applicants who have committed several felonies, including murder or voluntary manslaughter, rape and kidnapping. Applicants are already disqualified from receiving a teacher’s license if they have committed a violent crime against a child; SB 1323 would extend that language to violent crimes against adults.

The State Department of Education has estimated that this bill could affect 10 to 20 teachers across Idaho.

Revoking a teacher’s license, or banning an applicant from teaching, is “a very solemn decision,” said Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, the bill’s sponsor. But Crabtree urged colleagues to think about the implications of having children in the classroom with a convicted violent felon.

But as senators debated the bill — or rose during roll call to explain their vote — several lawmakers expressed mixed feelings. They said they were sensitive to the idea of giving convicted felons a second chance, but said safety was their overriding concern.

“I think we have to err on the side of protecting our children,” said Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene.

Applicants denied a license would be able to appeal to the state’s Professional Standards Commission. But Sen. Dave Lent, R-Idaho Falls, still described SB 1323 as “a de facto life sentence,” affecting people who have already completed their prison sentence.

“At some point, we have to ask ourselves, when is justice satisfied?” Lent said.

The bill passed 24-10, over the objections of Republicans Lent; Kelly Anthon, Burley; Steve Bair, Blackfoot; Regina Bayer, Meridian; Lori Den Hartog, Meridian; Jim Guthrie, McCammon; Mark Harris, Soda Springs; Jim Patrick, Twin Falls; Jim Rice, Caldwell; and Steve Vick, Dalton Gardens.

It now heads to the House.

Charter school enrollment lotteries

A divided House passed a bill to allow charters schools to provide additional weighting in enrollment lotteries to low-income or at-risk students.

Pushed by Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, House Bill 512 would allow charter schools to weight their lotteries to push for a more diverse student body.

If the bill passes, and if it is stated in a charter school’s petition, that school could add additional enrollment weights to provide preference for:

  • Students living at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level.
  • Students who are homeless or in foster care.
  • Children with disabilities.
  • Students with limited English proficiency.
  • At-risk students.

“What it allows them to do is slowly develop a student body that more closely resemble the demographics of the community they are in,” Kerby said.

Before a lottery would be held, enrollment preference would continue to favor children of charter school founders, siblings of other students attending the charter school, students attending another charter school and students from the school’s primary attendance area.

Even if the bill passes, the lottery weighting would be optional.

However, some legislators said the bill felt like an affirmative action bill. Others weren’t sure how the weighting system worked or suggested the bill was a way for schools to reach demographic quotas.

Boyle said it wasn’t an affirmative action bill and pointed out that providing enrollment weighting is optional for charters. Boyle also pointed out that several charter school representatives asked for the bill.

HB 512 passed the House 38-27 and heads next to the Senate.



Kevin Richert and Clark Corbin

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