Statehouse roundup, 2.6.19: School funding formula hearing preview, mastery bill emerges

On Thursday, educators, parents, students and taxpayers will get their first opportunity to testify on a draft bill designed to overhaul Idaho’s public school funding formula.

The House and Senate education committees will host a joint “listening session” from 3 to 5 p.m. Thursday in the Statehouse’s Lincoln Auditorium.

Sen. Dean Mortimer

Senate Education Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, said legislators have one purpose in mind — gaining valuable feedback about how the proposed changes could affect Idahoans and their public school system.

“I think it’s going to give us a sense of where the public is in relationship to the new formula itself,” Mortimer said. “The formula has been out there, people have been manipulating it and talking about the different weights and different categories. I think it will give the Legislature a better understanding of what people are thinking so far about the different categories and weights.”

After weeks of anticipation, legislators posted the draft bill on Jan. 31. The draft calls for scrapping Idaho’s 25-year-old attendance-based funding formula and replacing it with an enrollment-based model where the money follows the student.

As a result, every time a student leaves a school district or charter, a base amount of funding (proposed at $4,236 per student) would leave with that student. Every time a student enters a new school, $4,236 would come with the pupil.

The draft also calls for adding funding weights to financially support economically disadvantaged students, English language learners, gifted and talented students and special education students. The proposal also calls for additional funding weights for small and remote schools and large schools, and creates a wealth adjustment.

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Supporters say an update is needed to account for 21st Century education realities, such as student mobility, dual enrollment, classroom technology and the proliferation of charter schools.

Skeptics say that by taking the same amount of money and dividing it up differently, the proposal creates winners and losers. Under an interim committee proposal, 36 Idaho school districts or charters would expect to receive less funding under the new model than currently, while the remaining districts would see an increase or flat funding.

Any change to the funding formula is important because of the amount of money involved. K-12 public school spending accounts for almost 50 percent of Idaho’s general fund spending each year.

On Thursday, legislators will first ask for education groups — often called stakeholders — to speak first. After that, legislators will call on anyone from the public to offer testimony, for up to three minutes.

A few guidelines for Thursday:

  • Anyone interested in testifying must sign up. Speakers are asked to bring two written copies of their testimony.
  • The public may begin signing up to testify at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, outside the Lincoln Auditorium, Room West Wing 2 in the basement of the Statehouse.

Quinn Perry, policy and government affairs director for the Idaho School Boards Association, said her organization plans to testify. She’s also encouraging school trustees to attend and speak up.

“We’ve reviewed the bill and are looking forward to giving feedback,” she said.

Read it for yourself

  • The 59-page draft of the bill is available online.
  • An interactive spreadsheet designed to demonstrate the funding formula and its effects is also available online (Under the funding model and draft legislation heading, click the Feb. 1 draft model to download the latest spreadsheet).

Senate Ed moves on a mastery bill — and more

Moving quickly Wednesday afternoon, the Senate Education Committee introduced five bills within a matter of a few minutes.

The headliner: state superintendent Sherri Ybarra’s latest attempt to lift the cap on the state’s mastery schools program.

The state has 19 “incubator sites” that are experimenting with mastery — which allows students to advance through school based on subject knowledge, rather than set time at a grade level. Ybarra would like to double the number of incubators, and in a separate budget request, she would like to increase the mastery program budget from $1.4 million to $2.8 million.

That prompted a question from Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, a Boise Democrat who also sits on the Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. Ward-Engelking wondered if the bill to lift the cap would tie JFAC’s hands. However, she voted in favor of introducing the bill, a motion that passed unanimously.

Spokeswoman Marilyn Whitney said Ybarra’s office has“quite a long list” of schools that could benefit from mastery seed money — without going into numbers. On repeated occasions, Ybarra has claimed to have a mastery “waiting list” of up to 50 districts. Idaho Education News has questioned the accuracy of that claim, after hearing from two administrators who were unsure how their schools landed on Ybarra’s list.

The five bills printed Wednesday would likely come back to Senate Education for a full hearing. This could be a pivotal juncture for the mastery bill, which Senate Education killed a year ago.

Senate Education printed four other bills, all unanimously:

  • A bill to allow charter schools to use an alternative certification for administrators. Former Gov. Butch Otter vetoed a similar bill on the final day of the 2018 session.
  • A bill that could allow some districts to pass three- to 10-year supplemental levies, provided they have had a voter-approved levy on the books for at least seven consecutive years.
  • A bill — drafted by Nampa High School senior class president Sebastian Griffin — that would relax class scheduling requirements for students who demonstrate college and career readiness on standardized tests.
  • A bill to eliminate some duplicative requirements for school continuous improvement plans — an idea from Ybarra’s “red tape committee.”

Levy disclosure bill

A new legislator is following up on an idea from an old political foe.

First-year Rep. Doug Ricks wants local governments to disclose the taxpayer cost of levy elections.

If passed, the Rexburg Republican’s bill would require ballot language that calculates the impact of levies, per $100,000 of taxable value.

The House Revenue and Taxation Committee introduced Ricks’ bill Wednesday, which means it could come back to the committee for a full hearing in the future.

The 2018 Legislature passed a similar bill, covering bond issues. The sponsor was then-Rep. Ronald Nate, R-Rexburg. Ricks defeated Nate in the May GOP primary.

Early childhood education

More than 100 Idaho children filled the Statehouse with laughter and learning Wednesday during Early Learning Day.

A coalition of groups such as Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children, Idaho Voices for Children and the Idaho Commission for Libraries teamed up for the event.

A fixture of Early Learning Day was BLOCK Fest, a hands-on exhibit that allowed young children to build skills in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and problem solving by playing with colorful building blocks and puzzles.

Coalition members also spoke to legislators and the public about early childhood education, highlighting the different forms that quality early learning takes.

Idaho is one six states that does not offer state-funded preschool for children. The coalition’s members used Early Learning Day to promote public opinions polls showing support for state funded preschool and to highlight the economic impact and return on investment of early education.

More information is online at www.idahoaeyc.org.

Idaho Education News senior reporter Kevin Richert contributed to this report. 

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