Statehouse roundup, 3.19.19: House Education gets back to work

Following a protest from several Republicans that prevented the committee from conducting business Monday, order was restored to the House Education Committee Tuesday.

Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, did not address Monday’s protest, which prevented him from holding an introductory hearing on a proposed new funding formula draft bill.

Each of the eight GOP legislators who missed Monday’s meeting returned to their seats Tuesday. The only legislator who missed Tuesday’s meeting was Vice Chairman Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, who Clow said was ill.

After Tuesday’s meeting adjourned, Clow told Idaho Education News that a couple of the legislators who skipped the previous day’s meeting came to talk to him. Clow didn’t say who those legislators were or what they talked about.

He also said he won’t push the issue.

“They are adults,” Clow said. “I talked to a couple that approached me, but figure I’d leave it up to them at this point.”

Clow said House Education’s business is nearly wrapped up for the year, and the committee may only have three other Senate bills to consider this session. As for his draft of a funding formula overhaul, Clow said he will watch the Senate for now.

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The status in the Senate: unclear

It’s unknown when the Senate Education Committee will take up Senate Bill 1196, the proposed funding formula rewrite. Committee Chairman Dean Mortimer hasn’t set a date for a hearing or a committee vote, and said lawmakers and education lobbyists are continuing to discuss the proposal.

“It’s developing day by day,” Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, told Idaho Education News. “I believe there are things we need to proceed forward with.”

Mortimer made his remarks after Tuesday’s Senate Education committee meeting — and after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder clarified his earlier remarks on the proposal.

At the end of a two-hour public hearing Monday — punctuated by calls to slow down on the far-reaching proposal — Winder suggested the proposal could be dead for the year. On Tuesday, Winder said he was not trying to put up a roadblock.

“I was not in any way showing a lack of support for what the chair is trying to accomplish,” Winder, R-Boise, said at the conclusion of Tuesday’s committee meeting.

Regardless, time is running out. Mortimer said he hopes Senate Education will hold its last meeting of the year on Thursday.

Only one bill appears on Wednesday’s agenda, and it’s a big one: House Bill 120, the sex-ed opt-in bill.

School levies

With its quorum intact, House Education advanced a bill Tuesday to change the laws for school districts running supplemental levies.

Under Senate Bill 1061a, school districts that have passed a levy for at least seven years would be able to place a measure on the ballot to extend the levy for three to 10 years.

Under current law, school districts may run levies for one or two years. Sponsoring Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, said current law hinders school districts’ ability to do longterm financial planning. Thayn said officials from the Basin School District brought this proposal, which would give districts the ability to plan without going so far as to consider permanent levies.

“Some will say 10 years will be too long of time, and I say that’s a lot less than forever, which is what a permanent levy is,” Thayn said.

As for the potential impact of the bill, Thayn said there are 69 levies on the books — out of the 115 school districts —that have been in place for seven or more years.

SB 1061a next heads to the full House with a recommendation it passes. It previously passed the Senate 30-3 on March 12.

Opportunity Scholarship expansion

A divided Idaho House barely passed Gov. Brad Little’s proposal to increase funding for a popular Idaho scholarship.

The House voted 38-30 to pass Senate Bill 1193, the State Board of Education’s special programs budget.

The budget includes transferring $7 million from a savings account to expand the Idaho Opportunity Scholarship. Even with $13.5 million available this year, there is a waiting list of more than 3,400 eligible students who could not receive a scholarship due to a lack of money.

Several conservative lawmakers voted no, after questioning other programs within the budget. They also attempted to revive a debate about expanding the Opportunity Scholarship to adults wishing to return to school.

“One of the things that is a little frustrating with this particular bill is there are so many things in it,” said Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, who suggested legislators should consider each individual line item or spending initiative on its own.

Sponsoring Rep. Paul Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene, pointed out that the 2018 Legislature — of which Ehardt was a member — passed a law to expand the scholarships to adults.

If legislators wish to amend that law, Amador said they should run a new bill, not attack the funding source.

“I don’t think it’s an appropriate debate for the appropriations bill,” Amador said.

SB 1193 next heads to Little’s desk for final consideration.

Drivers’ ed bill grounded in House

The House voted down a bill designed to offset some of the cost of driver’s education.

Senate Bill 1108 would have allowed schools to receive a $150 reimbursement for driver’s education — an increase from $125. The reimbursement would have covered need-based student scholarships, using about $400,000 from a $4.3 million dedicated fund.

Supporters said the increased reimbursement would allow more students to take driver’s education, using money that has been parked in a reserve account. “This is millions of dollars that has been sitting there for years,” said Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls.

Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, debated against the bill — saying it would create an undefined scholarship, and leaving “unelected bureaucrats” to set the rules.

The bill failed on a 38-30 vote. It had passed the Senate 31-3, and passed House Education with only one dissenting vote.

Warrantless arrests

A bill allowing police to arrest a suspect in a school threat without a warrant is headed to Little’s desk.

The Senate approved House Bill 209 Tuesday. Stemming from a March 2018 school threat in Moscow, expands the reach of a 2018 law governing online school threats.

The bill passed the Senate 28-4, with dissenting votes from Republicans Kelly Anthon of Burley, Dan Johnson of Lewiston, Dave Lent of Idaho Falls and Steve Vick of Dalton Gardens. The bill passed the House on March 6.

Teach For America bill

On Monday, the Senate unanimously approved a bill allowing school districts to partner with nontraditional teacher education programs, such as Teach For America.

If House Bill 93 is signed into law, approved programs such as Teach for America or ABCTE could partner with school districts and request state funding to assist with the recruiting, selecting, training and retaining of teachers in Idaho. Under the bill, TFA or other nontraditional programs would need to match any state funding. The bill’s sponsors anticipate such nontraditional programs would request $200,000 from the state.

Rather than working with certified teachers who complete a teacher preparation program at a college or university, TFA takes college graduates with a bachelor’s degree and places them in five-week training programs before placing them in classrooms.

Statewide, TFA teachers account for 40 out of the state’s more than 18,000 teachers, although the number of teachers working under some sort of alternative authorization has increased steadily.

House Bill 93 next heads to Little’s desk for final consideration.

Mastery education

Also Monday, the House passed a bill that would lift the cap on the number of schools and districts that can participate in Idaho’s Mastery Education Network.

The House voted 62-5 to pass Senate Bill 1059, which was pushed by Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra. She has championed mastery as a form of education that is personalized to students’ needs. Currently, 19 schools participate in a mastery pilot program, which is at capacity.

SB 1059 simply removes the cap, allowing more districts to join.

Ybarra originally asked for a $1.4 million increase in state funding to expand the Idaho Mastery Education Network, but budget writers have not approved the funding request.

Ybarra and her team wrote a fiscal note attached to SB 1059 that says the state will expand the mastery network “as appropriated funds allow.”

SB 1059 next heads to Little’s desk for final consideration.

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