Statehouse roundup, 3.11.22: JFAC finishes its work, at least for now

Legislative budget-writers cleared their to-do list Friday, polishing off a few remaining spending bills.

One such budget was the state’s Division of Career-Technical Education.

CTE’s 2022-23 budget would come to $73.2 million from the state’s general fund, an increase of less than $200,000.

But CTE will receive a one-time, $10 million infusion of cash for the current budget year, which runs through June 30.

“This is a direct investment in career-technical education in Idaho,” said Sen. Dave Lent, R-Idaho Falls, moving for the increase.

Gov. Brad Little proposed the $10 million supplemental funding in January.

About $4.5 million would go into CTE programs at the high school level, and $4 million would go into postsecondary programs. The rest of the money would go into a CTE data management system.

The $10 million increase passed on a 17-1 vote, with Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, in opposition. JFAC passed the 2022-23 budget proposal unanimously.

Both CTE budgets still must pass the House and the Senate.

In other last-minute business, JFAC Friday tacked language into a K-12 budget bill — requiring schools to report how much they have spent on employee health insurance, and how much they expect to spend through June 2023.

The reports, due Dec. 1, come as the Legislature is poised to put an additional $105 million into K-12 employee health benefits.

JFAC now goes into hiatus, with no future meetings scheduled. However, the committee could still meet later this session — to work on last-minute spending measures, or to rewrite a budget bill that fails on the House or Senate floor.

Senate passes Powerball bill

A bill to keep Idaho in the international Powerball lottery passed the Senate, and now heads to Little’s desk.

Idaho education has a direct stake in House Bill 607.

Dividends from Powerball are expected to exceed $200 million over the next decade — with the money going to public schools, the schools’ Bond Levy Equalization Fund, and the Permanent Building Fund, which pays for state construction projects, including projects on campuses.

Idaho has been a Powerball partner since 1992. But the Powerball compact now plans to sell tickets in Australia and the United Kingdom — a move requiring legislative approval.

The Senate signed on Friday, but not without some maneuvering.

Sen. C. Scott Grow, R-Eagle, said he was voting no, saying it’s “a shame” that Idaho children have to see their education financed in part through Powerball. He also said he had reservations about the international expansion.

As the Senate worked its way through the roll call, three senators changed their vote to “no,” without explanation: Sens. Van Burtenshaw, R-Terreton; Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls; and Lent.

Despite the defections, the bill passed on a 22-11 vote.

‘Divisive’ teachings resolution heads to House floor

A resolution denouncing “critical race theory” cleared the House Education Committee Friday.

Debates over the measure reflected those that followed it through the Senate.

Democrats and Republicans alike supported a section of the bill that encourages viewing history “both clearly and wholly.”

“Basically this is just to encourage the schools to tell everything about U.S. history, good, bad and ugly, instead of just bits and pieces of it,” said Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale.

But Democrats took issue with pieces of the resolution that decry “divisive content” without defining it, and with part of the resolution’s stated purpose: creating awareness of “an alternate history curriculum.”

And Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City, criticized Senate Concurrent Resolution 118’s targeting of the 1619 Project, a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times look into anti-Black racism’s role in the nation’s founding.

“If anything, teach 1619 along with 1776,” McCrostie said, referencing a Trump administration rebuke of the Times’ work. “Track ‘em parallel and let our students figure it out.”

Vice Chairman Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, supported the resolution, saying, “There’s a lot of divisive content … right now that is causing friction.” He said he sees the measure as “a smoothing over type resolution.”

Like all resolutions, SCR 118 would be non-binding and wouldn’t force schools to change their teachings.

It now heads to the House floor after Democrats opposed it on a voice vote.

Bus contracts. Senate Bill 1319 would allow school districts to contract with busing companies for up to 10 years — the cap is currently five years.

Money for the longer contracts must come from a new federal clean school bus program, established by the sweeping infrastructure law passed by Congress last year.

House Education passed SB 1319 to the floor unanimously.

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