Statehouse roundup, 2.3.20: Bill targets March, August school election dates

March and August school bond and levy elections would be a thing of the past, under a bill unveiled Monday morning.

The House State Affairs Committee introduced, or printed, a proposal to require school districts to run ballot measures only in May or November.

Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, said her goal is to increase voter turnout for school elections. She said she floated the idea with some of her constituents — older voters who want to vote in local elections, but don’t always know when their school district is running an election.

Under current law, school districts can run bond or levy elections on four dates: in March, May, August and November. In recent years, March has been the election date of choice for many school districts — and two larger districts, Nampa and Cassia County, have supplemental levies on the ballot for March 10. But Horman said the obscure March and August election dates lead to only a few hundred voters making multimillion-dollar decisions affecting thousands of property owners.

While Horman discussed her bill with constituents, she didn’t discuss the idea with the Statehouse’s most prominent education lobbying groups: the Idaho Association of School Administrators, the Idaho Education Association and the Idaho School Boards Association. Horman is a former Bonneville School District trustee and board member of ISBA, which represents trustees and charter board members from across the state.

“We’ll put it out in print and get the discussion going,” said Horman, in response to a question from Rep. Brooke Green, D-Boise.

Two ISBA lobbyists attended the brief House State Affairs Committee hearing on the election bill, but did not testify. Typically, committees do not take public testimony at introductory or “print” hearings. Once a bill is printed, it is likely to come back to committee for a full public hearing.

After Monday’s hearing, ISBA policy and government affairs director Quinn Perry said the March levy election date is important because it falls before spring contract negotiations. If a levy failed and a district had to wait until November to rerun a proposal, the delay could have a “significant negative effect,” Perry said.

House State Affairs introduced the bill on a voice vote, but at least two Democrats voted against the proposal.

Co-sponsored by Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, the election date bill is the second piece of legislation this session that could have a profound effect on school elections.

On Thursday, the House passed a bill to require taxing districts to wait at least 11 months before rerunning a failed bond issue. Sponsored by Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, that bill now heads to the Senate, where similar legislation stalled in 2018.

Standards debate coming Tuesday

After nearly two weeks of silence, the House Education Committee will take up academic standards and administrative rules Tuesday morning.

Rep. Lance Clow

Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, said the committee will take up the math, English and science standards, as well as the rest of the omnibus rule Tuesday.

Throughout the first month of the sessions, the committee conducted divided hearings on standards. However, House Education hasn’t publicly addressed the standards since the conclusion of a divisive Jan. 22 science standards hearing.

On Tuesday, House Education members will work through each of the 12 different chapters from the omnibus rule. They will have the ability to repeal all or some of the standards or approve them in their entirety.

“As requested, we will take each of the docket chapters one by one,” Clow said.

The standards and rules debate finally appears to be coming to a head during the fifth week of the 2020 legislative session. Last week, the Senate began putting pressure on House Education to act. Senate Education Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, said the Senate wanted to respect the House and allow it to hear citizens’ concerns about academic standards. But, with major legislation on hold while the House dives into rules and Senate Education facing a Feb. 10 deadline to introduce new bills, Mortimer said it’s time to get the show on the road.

“We felt like there has been a lot of work done on the House side and we would like, however, to address the rules and get to a resolution and get on to bills and other hearings,” Mortimer told Idaho Education News.

In order for the Legislature to actually remove standards from the books, the House and Senate will need to agree. If the House repeals all of the standards but the Senate approves them, the standards would remain in place.

House Education meets at 9 a.m. Tuesday in Room EW 41 of the Statehouse basement.

Senate spikes presidents’ search bill

The Senate abruptly killed a bill that would have allowed the State Board of Education to narrow its searches for college and university presidents.

After no debate, the Senate rejected Senate Bill 1234 on a 23-12 vote.

SB 1234 would have allowed the State Board to name only three finalists for presidents’ jobs, instead of the current list of five finalists.

Sponsoring Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, outlined the State Board’s arguments for the bill. The board said some applicants were reluctant to have their names publicly disclosed on a list of five finalists — when their odds of landing a job might be small. And the board said the current process is costly, since all five finalists are brought to campus for public meetings with faculty, students and the community.

No senators debated for or against the bill. However, Den Hartog took the floor to explain her vote, saying she thought the bill was too narrowly focused. Mortimer and Senate Education member Chuck Winder, R-Boise, spoke in favor of the bill during Senate roll call.

Here’s Monday’s roll call:

  • Aye: Grow, Guthrie, Lent, Martin, Mathias (Buckner-Webb), Mortimer, Nelson, Nye, Patrick, Thayn, Ward-Engelking, Winder.
  • Nay: Agenbroad, Anthon, Bair, Bayer, Brackett, Burgoyne, Burtenshaw, Cheatham, Crabtree, Den Hartog, Harris, Heider, Hill, Johnson, Jordan, Lakey, Lee, Lodge, Rice, Souza, Stennett, Vick, Woodward.

Kurt Liebich

The second of Gov. Brad Little’s two State Board nominees fielded a handful of low-key questions Monday afternoon.

Senate Education held a brief confirmation hearing for Boise businessman Kurt Liebich, setting the stage for a committee vote later in the week.

Liebich stuck to Little’s education playbook. He supports making early literacy the state’s top education priority — saying the state’s resources are limited, and literacy will set the stage for success elsewhere in the education system. Like Little, Liebich said the state needs to beef up kindergarten through third-grade spending before branching out into pre-K.

“We’ve got to take care of first things first,” he said.

Liebich said affordability is the biggest obstacle that stands between students and higher education, and said next year’s college and university tuition freeze is a small step in the right direction.

Little is seeking to fill two vacancies on the State Board, an eight-member panel with wide-ranging policymaking authority in K-12 and higher ed. The Senate has already confirmed former state Sen. Shawn Keough of Sandpoint.

Lewis-Clark State College

A North Idaho legislator is pushing a bill to allow Lewis-Clark State College to offer graduate level courses.

Rep. Paul Amador, R- Coeur d’Alene, convinced House Education to introduce the bill Monday morning.

Amador’s one-page bill removes references to Lewis-Clark as a four-year college and deletes a section of law discussing granting bachelor’s degrees and replaces that with the phrase “appropriate collegiate degrees.”

Amador said the changes would allow Lewis-Clark to offer graduate-level courses if the State Board saw fit.

Although it was only an introductory hearing, Amador ran into several questions from the committee. Rep. Bill Goesling, R-Moscow, asked how the bill would affect nearby University of Idaho. Goesling theorized the bill would put the two schools in competition. He also questioned whether passing the bill would require new facilities.

In the end, legislators voted unanimously to introduce the bill, setting the stage for the bill to return to the committee for a full hearing.

Amador’s bill would not affect any of Idaho’s other colleges or universities.


Kevin Richert and Clark Corbin

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