Statehouse roundup, 3.7.19: House abruptly kills State Board budget

In a surprise, late-session insurrection, House conservatives and Democrats abruptly voted down a budget for the State Board of Education.

While the budget is relatively small, in the greater context of education spending, the 29-41 vote revealed some deeper fissures on other education issues. And the vote presents a speed bump as lawmakers head into the final weeks of the 2019 session.

The budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee will have to draw up a new spending plan for the State Board, an agency with broad policymaking power over K-12 and higher education.

House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley

“That was certainly not on my radar,” House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said after the Thursday morning vote.

Several forces conspired against House Bill 226.

Even though the failed State Board budget bill included less than $6.4 million in general fund dollars — and even represented a slight decrease from this year’s budget — several House Republicans picked at pieces of the budget.

Rep. Rod Furniss, R-Rigby, questioned the $529,700 line item for the Public Charter School Commission, an offshoot of the State Board, which oversees and authorizes many of the state’s charter schools. JFAC members downplayed the line item, which they said represented only a 1.5 percent increase.

Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, objected to a new position in the budget — an associate chief academic officer, who would be charged with finding cost savings within the higher education system. The position’s line item comes to $108,400. “I am not in favor of this,” said Ehardt, discussing the position’s salary in contrast to teacher salaries.

The associate chief academic officer’s position is a highly skilled post, and 22 percent of the $108,400 line item covers benefits and not salary, said Rep. Paul Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene, the JFAC member who carried the ill-fated budget bill on the House floor.

As Furniss and Ehardt questioned the bill from the House floor, the conservative Idaho Freedom Foundation criticized the budget online. In an analysis of the bill, posted Thursday, the group said the bill would continue the State Board’s “recent trend of adding headcount.” The board has added nine full-time positions since 2016, and the new budget would add another position, the associate chief academic officer.

Even so, the bill might have survived opposition from conservatives Thursday. However, 12 of the House’s 14 Democrats also voted no.

Rep. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise

It was a statement vote that had nothing to do with the State Board budget per se, House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding said afterwards. Instead, Democrats have deeper concerns “with the overall underfunding of education,” he said — and after a three-year, bipartisan process, Democrats have been cut out of the negotiations on a bill to rewrite the school funding formula.

“Democrats have only been partially included in those conversations,” said Erpelding, D-Boise.

It’s rare, but not unprecedented, for the House or Senate to vote down a budget. Last year, in the midst of a heated debate over a new statewide reading test, the House rejected an agency budget for state superintendent Sherri Ybarra State Department of Education.

JFAC will now have to rewrite the State Board budget, and bring a new version to the House. The new bill has to be different than its predecessor — at least nominally. The bottom line will have to change by at least $100.

Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa

“We’ll review the budget and see if there’s anything we need to consider,” said Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa, JFAC’s House co-chairman.

Budget-writers will meet with Republicans and Democrats in the next few days to try to address their concerns, said Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, JFAC’s House vice chair.

The failed State Board budget contained a couple of line items of note. It included $263,000 to allow the board to review applications for master teacher premiums, a new, $4,000-a-year pay bump designed to reward high-performing veteran teachers. It also included $100,000 to fund Gov. Brad Little’s proposal for a new K-12 task force.

The budget is notable too for what it doesn’t include.

It doesn’t contain Little’s proposed $7 million increase in the Idaho Opportunity Scholarship; that will appear in a different State Board budget. Nor does it include money for day-to-day public school, charter school or higher education operations. That money is contained in other, larger spending bills, such as the seven K-12 budgets that easily passed the House Tuesday.

How they voted

Republicans for (27): Addis, Amador, Anderson, Anderst, Bedke, Blanksma, Clow, Collins, Dayley, Gibbs, Goesling, Hartgen, Holtzclaw, Horman, Kauffman, Kerby, Lickley, Marshall, Raybould, Raymond, Ricks, Stevenson, Syme, Troy, Wagoner, Wood, Youngblood.

Republicans against (29): Andrus, Armstrong, Barbieri, Boyle, Chaney, Christensen, Crane, DeMordaunt, Dixon, Ehardt, Furniss, Gestrin, Giddings, Green, Harris, Kingsley, Mendive, Monks, Moon, Moyle, Nichols, Palmer, Scott, Shepherd, Vander Woude, Wisniewski, Young, Zito, Zollinger.

Democrats for (2): Toone, Wintrow.

Democrats against (12): Abernathy, Berch, Chew, Davis, Ellis, Erpelding, Gannon, Green, Mason, McCrostie, Rubel, Smith.

Online CTE bill will get a makeover

The Senate will amend a bill designed to encourage online career-technical instruction.

Senate Bill 1106 would allow charter schools to receive state CTE funding, “irrespective of the instructional delivery method.” This would allow virtual charter schools to qualify for a share of CTE funds.

The intent is not to supplant face-to-face programs, but to foster a blended learning model, said Suzanne Budge, a lobbyist pushing for the bill on behalf of virtual charter schools.

Testimony was mixed.

Industry groups said the bill took a step in the right direction. Some elements of CTE instruction, such as workplace safety and business ethics, can translate to a virtual setting, said Wayne Hammon of the Idaho Association of General Contractors.

Two Nampa students testified against the bill. Daelas Zieber said her four years of Future Farmers of America animal science classes changed her life. But she said she would be “terrified” to intern in a workplace without her hands-on FFA instruction.

The state’s Division of Career-Technical Education has taken no position on the bill. But the division has “significant concerns” about ensuring a quality hands-on classroom experience, Director Dwight Johnson said.

The State Board has taken no position either, and cancelled a Friday conference call to discuss the bill. “The board will continue to monitor the proposal,” the board said in a news release, issued minutes after the Senate Education Committee sent SB 1106 to the floor for amendment.

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