Statehouse roundup, 3.18.22: All-day kindergarten bill remains in limbo, but an alternative path emerges

The all-day kindergarten bill remains on hold on the House floor, at least until Monday, but a potential replacement is now in play.

The original bill was on Friday’s agenda, but the House skipped over it, with no discussion and no disagreement. Senate Bill 1373 lays out a plan to spend an additional $46.6 million on early literacy. Schools can use the money for all-day kindergarten — augmenting the existing state funding for half-day kindergarten — but they are not required to do so.

The House appeared poised to vote on the bill Wednesday. But after 20 minutes of debate, the House put the bill on hold. Afterwards, House Speaker Scott Bedke said the Senate-passed bill appeared to be in jeopardy of failing on the House floor.

The decision to put off Friday’s vote suggested the bill’s fate remains in limbo.

But another path forward for all-day kindergarten may have emerged when a replacement surfaced Friday afternoon.

Immediately after the House ended a long morning on the floor, the chamber’s Ways and Means Committee quickly introduced a new version of the all-day kindergarten bill. The replacement looks like SB 1373 — including the way it allocates half of literacy money to schools based on their enrollment and half based on students’ performances on the Idaho Reading Indicator — but there’s one major change.

The new version tacks on a requirement that school districts disclose on ballots what they plan to use supplemental levy funds on. It also requires districts to post reports of their supplemental levy spending online each year.

That addition comes as opponents of the original bill have said it won’t meaningfully reduce property taxes, because it doesn’t require districts to stop funding kindergarten programs with levies.

The new-look bill is a mashup of sorts, combining nearly all of SB 1373 and most parts of a levy transparency bill, which passed the House but hasn’t gotten a committee hearing in the Senate. Unlike the original levy transparency bill, the combined kindergarten-levy bill wouldn’t allow districts the flexibility of changing the direction of 10% of their levy funds as their budget pictures change.

Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, sponsored the original levy transparency bill. It was combined with SB 1373 by House leadership to try to allay the concerns of SB 1373’s critics, who felt it didn’t do enough to stop districts from funding full-day kindergarten with levy dollars, Horman told EdNews Friday. She was unsure whether her original bill, the combined levy-kindergarten bill, or both would continue moving forward as of Friday afternoon.

It isn’t immediately clear how the House will reconcile the new and old proposals. As it does, one of Gov. Brad Little’s top K-12 priorities for 2022 — boosted literacy funding and expanding all-day kindergarten — is on the line as he stares down the Republican primary in May.

Other votes delayed. The House also skirted around other education budget bills Friday morning:

  • A State Board of Education budget, also poised for a Friday vote, got skipped over until Monday. A significant point in Senate Bill 1390: It contains the $50 million of federal money for the Empowering Parents Grants program. The Legislature has already OK’d Little’s family education grants proposal, but this bill bankrolls the program.
  • The House moved a host of bills up the calendar for votes Friday — but sidestepped three education budget bills. One of the bills, House Bill 788, includes a $46.6 million spending line item for literacy and all-day kindergarten. Another bill, the Senate-passed Senate Bill 1404, provides $1,000 of federally funded bonuses for teachers and administrators. Senate Bill 1403, also passed previously by the Senate, includes line items for summer reading programs and summer programs in the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math.

The House did pass one piece of the budget puzzle: a State Board budget that includes $27.8 million for scholarships and grants. Senate Bill 1392 passed on a 60-8 vote, and heads to Little’s desk.

Lawmakers target ‘domestic terrorism’ letter

A bill that would define domestic terrorism in Idaho law cleared the Senate Friday, fueled by a national controversy over the National School Boards Association’s suggestion that parents disrupting school board meetings might be labeled as “domestic terrorists.”

Senate Bill 1398 would exclude Idahoans who don’t cooperate with a federally designated international terrorist organization from that definition.

“This legislation would prevent an Idahoan from being labeled a domestic terrorist or terrorist in Idaho without constitutionally protected due process,” its statement of purpose says.

The NSBA has since apologized for the wording of its “domestic terrorism” letter to the White House, but the U.S. Department of Justice has vowed to crack down on a “spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence” against school officials. The national moves drew pressure from Republican lawmakers in Idaho, and the Idaho School Boards Association last month cut ties with its national affiliate over the move.

Sponsor and Majority Caucus Chair Kelly Anthon, R-Burley, said the Democratic DOJ’s “overreach” was an “attempt to silence, with federal powers, opposition.”

“Just because you don’t like what someone says, or the way they behave, or the way they appear at your board meetings, it doesn’t mean they’re a domestic terrorist,” Anthon told the Senate.

Assistant Minority Leader Grant Burgoyne voted against the bill, taking issue with how it “purports” to define of domestic terrorism.

“There are domestic terrorist organizations, and if one’s acting in concert with them, one should be guilty of domestic terrorism,” Burgoyne, D-Boise, said.

Burgoyne also said terrorist attacks sometimes make the U.S. aware of a terrorist group’s existence, and the Idaho law would prevent members of those groups from being prosecuted.

Anthon defended that existing criminal law can ensure that such criminal actions are prosecuted – “domestic terrorism” label or not.

The bill passed 30-5, with only Democrats voting against it. It now heads to the House.

School funding switch nearly extended

A bill to continue funding schools based on their student enrollment, rather than based on their average daily attendance, passed the Senate with no debate.

House Bill 723 would extend the pandemic-era change through 2024 and would call for the establishment of an interim committee to study the state’s school funding formula.

The State Board of Education has temporarily switched the state over to enrollment-based funding for the last two years, so that higher student absence rates and school operations disruptions don’t destabilize school funding.

HB 723 passed unanimously.

Curricular adoption committee mandate moves forward

House Bill 650, requiring school districts to establish committees to advise them in adopting curriculum, also passed the Senate.

The first iteration of the bill would have required districts to have 12-member committees, but a Senate amendment changed that so that school districts can choose the size of the committees. That change came at the urging of rural school district representatives, who said it would be too difficult to round up that number of volunteers.

The committees would only advise school boards. Boards would continue to have the final say on adopting curriculum.

The bill passed 30-4, with Democratic opposition. The House would have to concur the Senate amendment for it to go to Little’s desk.

School bus speed boost runs out of gas

The Senate put the brakes on a bill that would have allowed school buses to travel 70 mph, a 5-mph uptick from the current legal limit.

A 16-19 vote stopped House Bill 571 from advancing, as critics questioned whether increased speeds could cause more frequent, injurious crashes.

As he did in committee, Sen. David Nelson, D-Moscow, cited a national report arguing an increase of speeds to 70 mph could do just that.

Sponsor Sen. Christy Zito, R-Hammett, said school bus drivers have told her that lower speeds put bus riders and drivers in danger, forcing them to impede traffic on 80-mph interstates.

But a majority of senators were swayed the opposite way on safety questions and sunk the bill.


Kevin Richert and Blake Jones

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