Statehouse roundup, 3.22.19: House kills school turnaround bill

The House voted overwhelming Friday to kill a bill designed to help low-performing schools turn things around.

Senate Bill 1029 would have allowed some of the state’s lowest performing 5 percent of schools to develop local committees and voluntarily enter partnerships with turnaround consultants or experts. Supporters said $750,000 in previously approved State Board of Education funding would have been available to support any schools that chose to participate in the program.

Rep. Lance Clow

Senate Education Committee Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, sponsored the bill, while House Education Committee Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, carried it on the House floor.

“This is an opportunity for us to reach out and find a way to help some of these struggling schools,” Clow said.

Despite the bill’s high-profile backers, it was already in trouble when House Education sent it to the floor without a recommendation. Most commonly, when committees send a bill to the floor, it comes with a recommendation it passes.

Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, argued that the turnaround strategies are not innovative and have failed for years. She also said the state has already put a lot of resources in education, and she was concerned about adding new programs.

“We have a lot of programs and a lot of money has been put in education this year and this is not one program we need,” Moon said.

House Education Vice Chairman Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, opposed the bill after saying it placed accountability and oversight of the turnaround programs in the wrong place.

“We’re giving the State Board (of Education) the ability to undermine the State Department (of Education), who should be working with these schools,” Kerby said.

Last year, Mortimer pushed a similar bill that died when it was pulled off the House floor late in the session.

SB 1029 is dead for the year.

The bill’s demise marked the end of a long week for Clow. On Monday, several of his fellow Republicans skipped House Education’s meeting, which blocked him from attempting to introduce a new draft of a bill designed to rewrite Idaho’s K-12 public school funding formula.

Advanced opportunities expansion

In other action Friday, the House passed a bill to let students use state advanced opportunities funds to pay for career-technical education offerings.

Pushed by Kerby, Senate Bill 1105, would allow students to tap into their state-funded advanced opportunities allowance of $4,125. Kerby said the change would help schools, particularly small rural schools, offer more career-technical courses. Using the Weiser School District as an example, Kerby said students could use the advanced opportunities funding to pay for HVAC, welding, plumbing, medical coding or pharmaceutical tech courses and get a jumpstart on landing good-paying trade jobs.

“This is a landmark opportunity,” Kerby said. “We think it will open more of those types of opportunities to those type of kids.”

Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, has estimated the first year cost of the program would be $462,000.

SB 1105 passed the House 55-13. It already passed the Senate unanimously. It heads next to Gov. Brad Little’s desk for final consideration.

Community colleges

Without any debate — and virtually without opposition — the House passed the 2019-20 community colleges budgets Friday.

The budget provides for a 3.5 percent increase in general fund spending above current levels and provide support for College of Eastern Idaho, College of Southern Idaho, College of Western Idaho, North Idaho College.

Moon, a member of the House Education, was the lone dissenter. She didn’t explain her vote.

The community colleges budget is contained in Senate Bill 1188, which previously passed the Senate unanimously. The budget bill heads to Little’s desk.

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