Statehouse roundup, 3.26.15: Career ladder, salamanders, bullying and more

Sen. Dean Mortimer called it “a long time coming.”

Mortimer career ladder
Senate Education Committee Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, outlines the $125.5 million career ladder bill on the Senate floor Thursday afternoon.

But on Thursday afternoon, a $125.5 million teacher career ladder bill cleared its final legislative hurdle — without dissent.

The 34-0 Senate vote sends House Bill 296 to Gov. Butch Otter’s desk. The governor’s support is all but assured; Otter’s education liaison, Marilyn Whitney, has been presenting the bill in the Legislature’s education committees.

When senators had their chance to debate the bill, they lined up to praise it — and the process of coming up with a consensus bill that has support from all leading education groups.

And senators of both parties acknowledged the cost of the five-year rollout, but said Idaho cannot not afford not to put money into teacher recruitment and retention.

When the five-year rollout is completed, teacher salaries would break down as follows:

  • Residency teachers in their first three years in the profession: $37,000 to $39,000.
  • Professional teachers with more than three years of experience: $$42,500 t0 $50,000.

The bill also includes a series of salary incentives for teachers who continue their education, earn a master’s degree or reach “master teacher” status, as defined by state and local benchmarks.

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Senators couched the bill as the first step in a long-range approach to address teacher salaries.

“Here is the chance for us to step up,” said Sen. Bob Nonini. The Coeur d’Alene Republican described as “embarrassing” the state’s No. 49 ranking in teacher pay — a new statistic reported by Idaho Education News earlier this week.

“I think we need to stay the course and continue to do what is right,” said Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise.

In other Statehouse action from a hectic Thursday:

Salamanders. Boise eighth-grader Ilah Hickman’s state amphibian bill is crawling its way to Otter’s desk.

The Senate voted for Hickman’s bill honoring the Idaho giant salamander — bringing her five-year campaign for a state amphibian nearly to conclusion.

Ilah Hickman, 1.19.15
Ilah Hickman, an eighth-grader at Boise’s Les Boise Junior High School,

Ward-Engelking focused much of her debate not on the salamander — but on Hickman. As a student, she has jumped into the “STEM” disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math, a recurring focus in Idaho’s education debate.

“She actually epitomizes what we want for our students in Idaho,” Ward-Engelking said.

Hickman was not on hand to watch the Senate’s brief debate, but Ward-Engelking said she stayed home from a spring break family trip to the Oregon coast Wednesday to present her bill to a Senate committee.

The Senate voted 33-1 for the salamander bill, with Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, casting the lone dissenting vote.

Hickman’s House Bill 1 appeared dead for the 2015 session in January, when the House State Affairs Committee voted to hold it in committee. But committee leaders brought the bill back abruptly last week, and it easily cleared the House Monday.

A new broadband bill. In the aftermath of the Idaho Education Network contract fiasco, a pair of North Idaho lawmakers want to switch course.

They want the state to create a pair of technology panels: the Education Opportunity Network and the Idaho Opportunity Network. Both panels would operate under the direction of a legislative oversight committee.

The EON, according to the bill’s statement of purpose, would be a board “charged with exploring and taking advantage of technological opportunites, including broadband and related services that connect students to remote interactive learning.”

The EON’s goal would be to focus on technology that qualifies for federally administered “e-Rate” dollars — namely, projects at schools and libraries. As the Idaho Education Network contract disputed lingered in court, a Federal Communications Commission contractor cut off the state’s share of these phone surcharges in 2013. The state hasn’t received these dollars since — and with the network contract now voided, the state is unlikely to receive e-Rate dollars until 2016 at the earliest.

The second panel created by the bill, the ION, would be assigned to draft a “forward-thinking, adaptive process” to apply technology across state government, according to the bill’s statement of purpose.

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, and Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, are sponsoring the bill, introduced Thursday by the House Ways and Means Committee.

Parental rights. A rewritten version of a bill asserting parental rights in education and health care issues had a easier go on the House floor.

The rewritten House Bill 113 says , in part, “Parents who have legal custody of any minor child or children have the fundamental right and duty to make decisions concerning their education.” However, the bill says state and local governments can interfere with parental decisions if such a policy is essential to advancing the public interest — and represents “the least restrictive means available” to advance this interest.

Mirroring the Senate — which approved this rewritten bill along party lines Monday — the House gave the bill overwhelming support Thursday. The vote was 56-12; all dissenting votes came from Democrats.

On Feb. 25, the original version of the bill passed on a narrow 37-31 vote.

The amended bill now goes to Otter’s desk.

Bullying. The Senate Education Committee unanimously passed anti-bullying legislation.

House Bill 246 represented a bipartisan effort to prevent harassment, intimidation and cyber bullying.

Reps. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, Patrick McDonald, R-Boise, Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, Christy Perry, R-Nampa, Sue Chew, D-Boise and Sens. Keough, Ward-Engelking, Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise and Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, were among co-sponsors.

McDonald New
Rep. Patrick McDonald, R-Boise

Everyone who testified during the hour-long hearing supported the bill, including the Idaho School Boards Association, students who have been bullied, parents whose children took their own lives after being bullied and an Idaho teen who started an anti-bullying club at her school.

McDonald, a former U.S. marshal for Idaho, testified that victims of bullying exhibit many of the same symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as law enforcement officers who experience severe trauma.

“This is a situation that we can prevent,” McDonald said. “This is a situation, by virtue of our positions that we hold, that we should prevent because we have victims out there.”

The bill heads next to the Senate floor with a recommendation it pass. It cleared the House 51-18 on Monday.

Two-for-one. For the first time this year, the House Education Committee met twice Thursday in an effort to rapidly advance bills at this late juncture of the session.

The frantic 11th-hour push began Thursday morning when committee members introduced brand-new versions of two contentious bills.

Whitney returned on Otter’s behalf with a new proposal on college and career advising counselors – just 48 hours after the committee killed her previous bill. Committee members killed the first bill after they opposed the idea of writing job descriptions into state law, since different districts have different needs.

Whitney said the new bill includes a more flexible recommendation for general activities that counselors should focus on. She said the bill is necessary to sharpen focus on the role that counselors play in helping students pursue higher education and careers.

Committee members returned late Thursday afternoon to pass the bill and send it to the House floor with a recommendation it pass. The Idaho School Boards Association and Idaho Rural Schools Association said the rewritten bill is a big improvement over the original, while the Idaho Education Association continued to oppose it.

Tim Corder, state superintendent Sherri Ybarra’s special assistant, returned with rewritten language regarding the state’s new application for a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind/Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

On Monday Corder presented a similar bill, and committee members took the unusual step of amending the draft before introducing it. The biggest change in the new version has to do with the Common Core-aligned Idaho Standards Achievement Test by Smarter Balanced.

Citing the possibility of lost federal funding, Corder removed language from the waiver that would have allowed students or schools to opt out of the testing requirement.

Ninety-five percent of Idaho students must take the ISAT/SBAC test or all schools would face the loss of 20 percent of Title 1 funds they receive from the feds.

The sum total of that loss, however, remains unclear.

On Monday, Corder told lawmakers the penalty would come to $3 million. In an interview with Idaho Education News on Tuesday, Corder said the penalty would be $10 million. On Thursday, he corrected himself again, telling lawmakers the penalty would actually be at least $11.6 million.

Earlier this year, Corder and former Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde estimated such a penalty could range between $620,000 and $245 million.

Corder said he removed the opt-out language because it would jeopardize everything else the state hoped to accomplish with the new waiver.

House Education also passed the waiver bill, House Bill 314. The bill is not the waiver itself, which needs to be submitted to the federal government.

“It is really about (lawmakers) exerting your authority, your direction for the superintendent to travel in about amending the ESEA waiver,” Corder said.

Ybarra is scheduled to discuss the waiver with House Education Monday.

Tiered licensure. House Education followed their Senate counterparts’ lead and swiftly rejected a tiered teacher licensure rule with no debate.

Tiered licensure had been designed as a companion to the teacher career ladder proposal. However, tiered licensure proved especially controversial with educators. Architects of the career ladder bill incorporated aspects of tiered licensure into the career ladder, leading members the Senate Education Committee to reject the tiered licensure rule on the same day the original career ladder bill was introduced earlier this month.

Idaho Education News reporters Clark Corbin and Kevin Richert contributed to this report.

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