Statehouse roundup, 3.18.24: State auditors will examine K-12 funding gaps

Legislative auditors will take a closer look at school funding — and gaps from district to district.

The Office of Performance Evaluations got the assignment Friday, after a legislative committee signed off on the idea.

Sens. Dave Lent, R-Idaho Falls, and Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, requested the study. They said they wanted OPE to follow up on previous studies that highlighted gaps in paying for school facilities or covering classified staff salaries.

“(We) would like to know more about other disparities in Idaho’s K-12 public school system,” Lent and Ward-Engelking said in a letter Wednesday requesting the study.

The senators said they wanted an “apples-to-apples” comparison between districts, and a study covering several topics:

  • Available resources, from qualified teachers to support staff to facilities.
  • Cost comparisons, and the gaps between urban and rural districts.
  • School and student demographics, including special education needs, English language learners’ needs and poverty levels.
  • Funding disparities “based upon the ability or inability to pass local levies.”
  • Policy recommendations “to guide lawmakers and education officials in making informed decisions” about funding and resource issues.

Lent and Ward-Engelking both serve on the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee and the Senate Education Committee; Lent chairs Senate Education.

The Joint Legislative Oversight Committee approved this study Friday.

Bill expanding student telehealth access dies in committee

The Senate Education Committee Monday narrowly rejected a bill to allow schools to offer technology and meeting rooms for telehealth services on campus. 

Sponsoring Rep. Dori Healey, R-Boise, said some schools already allow students to use resources for telehealth counseling. But other school officials are wary of the lack of liability protections in state law.

House Bill 684 would have codified optional parameters for students to engage in virtual counseling in private rooms on school computers. It also would have shielded school districts from liability for injuries arising from telehealth services. 

“This bill is a labor of love over the last year,” Healey told Senate Education. 

The committee held the bill, effectively killing it, on a 5-4 vote. The bill had passed the House on a 49-21 vote. 

Sen. Scott Herndon bristled at a provision that barred telehealth providers from disclosing a student’s private medical information unless disclosure would prevent a “serious and imminent threat” to the health and safety of a student or other person. This went beyond “duty to report” standards in other areas of Idaho law, which require disclosures if a patient reveals an explicit threat about a particular victim, Herndon said. 

“It’s no longer an explicit threat and … we’re expanding to whom medical records get revealed,” said Herndon, R-Sagle. “I don’t prefer to do this in a silo of the public schools.”

Senate Minority Caucus Chair Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, asked Herndon if he’d be willing to amend the bill. But Herndon said he had other concerns, including the cost for school districts to provide the space and technology for telehealth appointments. 

Healey told the committee that the bill wouldn’t create additional costs. “It’s completely optional for school, so we’re not asking them to create an additional burden to them,” she said.

Senate committee passes immunization opt-out bill

A bill to allow adult students to opt out of vaccinations is headed to the Senate floor.

House Bill 597 would extend opt-out policies to 12th-graders who turn 18, and any adult attending public or private college or a job training program.

The intent is to close a loophole, and provide the same opt-out rights to students regardless of age, said Sen. Glenneda Zuiderveld, R-Twin Falls, the bill’s co-sponsor.

The bill passed despite concerns from senators. Sen. Ron Taylor of Hailey said a law was unnecessary, since an agency rule already provides opt-out rights to adults. Melissa Wintrow of Boise questioned how HB 597 would affect college dormitories, which may require residents to immunize. Zuiderveld said students who opt out of vaccinations would make other living arrangements.

On a party-line vote, the Senate Health and Welfare Committee sent HB 597 to the full Senate for a final vote. The House has already passed the bill.

Senate OKs Holocaust resolution, State Board positions

The Senate approved two education measure during a morning session Monday:

House Concurrent Resolution 25 encourages the Department of Education to develop “age-appropriate” curriculum, professional development and guidance that helps schools effectively teach about the Holocaust. The resolution, which carries no legal weight, passed both legislative bodies unanimously. It does not need the governor’s approval. 

House Bill 698 covers budget line items for the State Board of Education, including 2% merit-based raises for State Board employees as well as funding for new positions: college and career training coordinators, an information technology business analyst and a safety and security analyst for higher education. The budget bill now heads to the governor.


Ryan Suppe and Kevin Richert

Ryan Suppe and Kevin Richert

Senior reporter Ryan Suppe covers education policy, focusing on K-12 schools. He previously reported on state politics, local government and business. Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism.

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