It took 79 days, two freshmen senators and the legislative equivalent of a fourth-quarter Hail Mary, but the House Education Committee is finally poised to hear a bill related to the school funding formula.
With almost no debate and discussion, House Education voted Tuesday to introduce a “pared-down” version of a funding formula bill.
Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, said the committee will immediately turn around and schedule a full-blown hearing on the bill, tentatively set for 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Sens. Dave Lent, R-Idaho Falls, and Jim Woodward, R-Sagle, sponsored the bill. They said the bill will not transition Idaho to a new formula for funding the public schools. Instead, they said the bill attempts to standardize some definitions and requires schools to begin collecting enrollment data that the Legislature can rely on next year when it takes another shot at rewriting a 25-year-old funding formula.
“In the funding formula process, it became clear the inability to nail down that data and really forecast out was a real problem for our superintendents and school districts,” Lent said.
House Education failed in its two previous attempts this year to introduce a full-blown rewrite.
- On March 11, the committee voted against introducing a rewrite that Clow worked on with education groups.
- On March 18, the committee dug in even deeper. The same eight Republicans who voted against introducing Clow’s first draft missed that day’s meeting, blocking Clow from even holding a vote on a different draft.
Lent and Woodward’s bill clocks in at just 11 pages, a far cry from the full-blown 65-page rewrite.
The bill might be scaled back, but the significance of Tuesday’s vote wasn’t lost on Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale.
“I want to thank the two senators, as clearly a House member wasn’t able to do this, to come over here and present what is needed very much,” Boyle said.
Lent and Woodward’s bill is similar to — but longer than — a draft that Senate Education Committee Chairman Dean Mortimer unsuccessfully attempted to introduce late last week in the Senate. Both bills define terms such as at-risk students, local salary schedules, English language learners and economically disadvantaged students. Both bills would require the education committees to undertake a “comprehensive review of the public school funding formula at least once every five years” beginning in 2024. And both bills require schools to make new reports to the Legislature covering the number of at-risk students, gifted-and-talented students, local salary schedules and revenue and expenditure reports.
Lent and Woodward’s bill differs by also requesting enrollment data as of Oct. 1 and Dec. 1. However, Woodward and Lent’s bill would not require schools and districts to report expenditures on line items and discretionary spending, as Mortimer’s draft would have.
Finally, Lent and Woodward’s bill also addresses renewable contracts, while Mortimer’s did not appear to.
Rep. Gary Marshall. R-Idaho Falls, congratulated Lent and Woodward on their work, but said he will still leave the session disappointed.
“Many of us worked really hard all through the entire session to understand thoroughly the funding formula draft legislation that was created,” Marshall said. “I want to express, a little bit, my disappointment we haven’t been able to come to the end of the row on the full funding formula.”
Senate OKs higher education budget
It took the Senate only a couple of minutes to spend $306 million in taxpayer dollars.
On a 35-0 vote, the Senate passed a budget for Idaho’s college and university system.
The general fund component of the budget, the $306 million from taxes, represents a 3.5 percent increase. By contrast, this year’s public school budgets represent a 6.1 percent increase.
“It’s kind of bare bones,” sponsoring Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, said of the higher education budget.
The budget includes a $150,000 line item for a streamlined dual-credit registration system, and $50,000 to pilot low- or no-cost open source college textbooks.
The higher education budget has passed the House, and now goes to Gov. Brad Little.
Online career-technical education
After two days of testimony and deliberations, House Education voted to advance a bill related to online career-technical programs offered by charter schools.
If passed, Senate Bill 1106 would provide state reimbursements for career-technical education courses “irrespective of the delivery method,” bringing online courses on the same plane as traditional brick-and-mortar schools that offer hands-on instruction.
Lobbyist Suzanne Budge brought the bill on behalf of the Idaho Technical Career Academy virtual school and its curriculum provider, K12 Inc.
Backers include several industry groups, such as the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry and the Idaho Associated General Contractors.
IACI Vice President John Eaton said the bill offers an additional tool to help students prepare for high-paying trade jobs, and the online technology component mirrors real-world workplace training programs.
“The process of workforce development is one of the key components of our agenda for the state of Idaho, and we still have a long way to go,” he said.
Several career-technical educators opposed the bill, including officials from the Boise School District and Payette River Technical Academy. Payette River Superintendent Patrick Goff questioned how a virtual career-technical program could compare with a traditional hands-on course that features industry-specific equipment and machinery.
“It’s a slap in the face of career-tech,” Goff said. “It is nothing more than a correspondence course.”
SB 1106 next heads to the House floor with a recommendation it passes. It previously passed the Senate 34-0.
Schools as polling places
A divided Senate passed a bill designed to ensure counties can use schools as polling places.
“The schools are really the center of our community, and they are used for many different purposes,” said Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, the floor sponsor of House Bill 270.
Several senators objected to the wording of the bill — which says schools “shall be made available” as polling places. Some schools can be fashioned into secure polling places — using separate entrances for voters — but that isn’t always the case, said Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene.
“The No. 1 priority is the safety of our children and our grandchildren,” Souza said.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder said he expected county commissioners to work with school trustees on a common-sense plan for polling places. “I don’t think they’re going to do anything that’s going to put the kids in danger,” said Winder, R-Boise.
With the Senate’s 22-12 vote, this bill goes to Little’s desk. It has already passed the House.
Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert contributed to this report.