Statehouse roundup, 3.15.22: Rural incentive, charter certification bills head to House floor

The House Education Committee Tuesday signed off on two very different approaches to the teacher shortage.

The committee OK’d Senate Bill 1290, a teacher incentive payments bill, and Senate Bill 1291, which would ease charter school teacher certification guidelines.

The debate on the two bills was somewhat interchangeable.

“We have a retention issue,” said Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, a co-sponsor of the teacher incentives bill.

“The teacher shortage is absolutely excruciating,” said Rep. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, a sponsor of the charter certification bill. The shortage, he said, sometimes forces schools to recruit “the last warm body available.”

Here’s a closer look at both bills, and Tuesday’s debate.

Teacher incentives. SB 1290 is not strictly a rural schools bill. Nor is it strictly a loan repayment bill. Teachers in rural or high-poverty districts could apply for the payments — and use them to pay down student loan debt, pursue a master’s degree, or receive credentials to teach an additional subject or a career-technical course.

The payments would start at $1,500 the first year, and reach $4,500 in year four. The idea is to encourage teachers to spend several years in a rural community — and possibly stay.

“Chances are we hook them, and they like what they see,” said Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, a teacher and a bill co-sponsor.

Testimony ran largely in favor of the bill, with the Idaho School Boards Association and the Idaho Education Association among the supporters. Only the Idaho Freedom Foundation testified against it; research assistant Kaitlyn Shepherd said the bill reflected no “clear thought” about the causes of teacher turnover and student debt.

The bill passed over the objections of three Republicans: Codi Galloway of Boise, Ron Mendive of Coeur d’Alene and Dorothy Moon of Stanley.

SB 1290 goes to the House floor. If it passes and Gov. Brad Little signs it, lawmakers would likely follow up with a spending bill to fund the new program.

Charter certification. SB 1291 would allow school-specific charter teacher certificates. In essence, an applicant would need only a bachelor’s degree to teach at a charter school. The charter certificates would not extend to traditional schools, but a second charter could choose to honor certificates from another charter school.

Kerby said he believes the state needs to change its approach to teacher recruitment, and SB 1291 would help.

“This would give us some experimentation, and this would give us some data,” he said.

A series of charter administrators said their schools need the flexibility now.

“The teacher shortage is real,” said Scott Thomson, executive director of the North Idaho Charter STEM Academy. “We need an all-of-the-above approach to a very serious problem.”

This time around, the opposition came from the IEA.

“Lowering the bar is never the answer,” executive director Paul Stark said. “In this case, it waters down the profession.”

The bill — which passed the Senate on a party-line vote March 2 — passed in committee over the objection of Democrats. It now goes to the House floor.

House passes ‘full and accurate history’ resolution

Voting nearly along party lines, the House passed a nonbinding resolution urging schools to teach a “full and accurate history of the United States.”

“Hopefully this will be something that can reunite us,” said Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, the sponsor of Senate Concurrent Resolution 118.

Even opponents praised sections of the resolution — such as its call for covering the whole of history, “not only the offenses but also the triumphs.”

But opponents took issue with other sections of the resolution. They singled out language criticizing The 1619 Project, a New York Times project on the role of racism in U.S. history. The resolution says the project is an attempt to make students feel “ashamed” of their ethnicity, and hails the Trump administration’s response, the 1776 Commission, as an attempt to help children understand the nation’s “full history.”

Rep. Chris Mathias — a Boise Democrat, and the only Black member of the House — said the wording suggested that lawmakers want to preserve a selective, “grayscale version” of American history.

“I have no idea what kind of problem we are trying to spotlight here,” Mathias said.

House Education Committee Chairman Lance Clow said it shouldn’t be surprising that sections of the resolution made some people uncomfortable. “Maybe that’s the real message of this,” said Clow, R-Twin Falls.

The resolution passed, 54-10, with Burley Republican Fred Wood joining Democrats in opposition. The resolution has already passed the Senate.

Money for State Board, family grants gets Senate nod

Upstairs across the rotunda, the full Senate passed a budget bill funding the Office of the State Board of Education in short order.

Though one sticking point from committee — how to fund the administration of Empowering Parents grants for families to cover education-related costs — resurfaced.

Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, voted “no” because the bill would pay for administrative costs out of the $50 million in federal money allocated for the grants. In committee, Sen. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, raised the same issue, calling for extra state money to cover administrative costs, and for the whole $50 million to go to grants for families.

“That means that over 1,100 fewer students will be able to receive a grant,” Den Hartog said.

Bill sponsor Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, touted the program’s capacity to give families up to $1,500 per student to cover expenses like laptops for school. And the budget passed 24-10, with no other lawmakers debating.

Senate Bill 1390, which also covers a variety of other State Board expenses and staff positions, now heads to the House.

Standards. The Senate also quickly passed House Concurrent Resolution 39, rejecting some of the state’s current academic content standards — goal posts for what students should learn in English, math and science.

That makes way for a separate bill forcing adoption of new draft standards to take the place of the current ones, which proponents have pushed saying it will further distance the state from national Common Core standards. Questions about the costs of doing so linger.

HCR 39 passed resoundingly on a voice vote, with some audible dissent.

Rules. The Senate also passed another rejection of state administrative rules. House Concurrent Resolution 45 would strike five rules set by the State Board of Education, ranging from a cap on how much school districts can spend on staff travel to reducing how many credits of math high school students must take in their senior year.


Kevin Richert and Blake Jones

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday