House introduces funding bill for growing school districts

The House Education Committee’s chairman unveiled a bill Wednesday designed to support school districts that experience enrollment growth during the school year.

DeMordaunt New
Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle

Rep. Reed DeMordaunt’s bill would provide additional funding for enrollment increases reported after the first 10 weeks of the school year — when funding is calculated, based on attendance levels.

The bill is based on Idaho’s complicated school funding formula, and districts could expect increased funding if they experience growth of at least 3 percent in  classroom units throughout the school year.

In budget and legislative lingo, classroom units are referred to as support units.

The funding adjustment would equal 50 percent of the difference between the numbers of classroom units in a growing district.

So, if a district started the year with 100 classroom units but enrollment grew to 104 classroom units, it would receive funding for two support units.

DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, has been working on funding growing school districts since at least last year. That’s when Gov. Butch Otter vetoed House Bill 126, an attempt to address the so-called student mobility issue.

Last week DeMordaunt tried to introduce a different version of a student mobility bill. On Wednesday, he said the new bill is better and clearer.

Student mobility is also one area of the public school budget that could be increased later this session, through trailer budget bills. Based on data from the previous four school years, DeMordaunt said his bill has a $837,000 price tag.

The bill was introduced Wednesday, and is likely to come back for a committee hearing.

In other Statehouse action Wednesday:

School security. After impassioned testimony from a Boise School District administrator, a divided Senate Education Committee endorsed a school security bill.

House Bill 514 would establish a state Office of School Safety and Security, and would fund school security inspections on a rotating, three-year basis.

Wendy Horman
Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, said the bill would build on the random school inspections conducted by the state in the wake of the December 2012 mass killings in Newtown, Conn.

Supporters said the state’s inspections would fill an important void — especially for districts and communities that cannot afford school resource officers. “What’s lacking is expertise,” said Mike Munger, safety and security specialist for the Boise School District.

Munger illustrated the importance of strong security safeguards, by discussing a Tuesday incident at Boise High School. A student climbed to the roof of the school, just blocks from the Statehouse, and threatened to attempt suicide. School officials responded quickly, and appropriately, Munger said. As a result, he said, 1,550 students were back in school Wednesday, and two parents were able to hug their child.

“When everything works, we have a name for that next day,” Munger said. “We call it Wednesday.”

The safety and security office would have a staff of five employees — and would receive $270,000 in general fund money and $300,000 in dedicated safe- and drug-free schools money. The office would be housed under Idaho’s Division of Building Safety, which already inspects schools annually to identify structural problems.

Republican Sens. Mary Souza of Coeur d’Alene and Lori Den Hartog of Meridian opposed the bill, saying they were concerned about creating a new state division. Souza also said the state is ignoring a more pressing security threat, since schools are used routinely as polling places.

Despite the objections, the House-passed bill now heads to the Senate floor.

Career ladder. House Education advanced a bill designed to move more school employees under the career ladder salary system and provide greater oversight of teacher evaluations.

House Bill 571 is designed to move pupil services staff members, such as counselors or speech pathologists, onto the career ladder.

The bill also calls on experts from the state’s colleges of education to complete independent, random audits of teacher evaluations.

Teacher evaluations are important because the 2015 career ladder law ties millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money to evaluations.

Last year, Idaho Ed News raised questions about the accuracy of teacher evaluations after reporting that 32 of the state’s 115 school districts awarded identical overall evaluation scores to every single teacher. Two superintendents also said administrators intentionally turned in inaccurate evaluation scores to the state in an effort to protect employees privacy.

The bill next moves to the House floor with a recommendation it passes.

School autonomy. House Education voted along party lines to advance a bill called the Local Innovation School Act.

Also known as House Bill 570, the bill’s supporters say it is designed to satisfy a recommendation issued by Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education to promote autonomy by removing bureaucratic constraints that prevent schools from innovating and excelling.

Under the bill, up to 10 schools a year would be able to apply for a waiver from the state for flexibility from laws or policies that impede autonomy or success.

Horman, the bill’s sponsor, said the bill is designed to foster innovation while allowing schools to be agile and adapt to their local circumstances.

But Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, took issue with the bill, worrying that a “broad suspension” of education laws and standards could lead to chaos and inequality across the state.

Horman said examples of things schools would be able to request a waiver from include seat-time restrictions or local assessment tests.

Schools would not be able to use the bill to opt-out of the Idaho Standards Achievement Test 2.0 by Smarter Balanced, the so-called SBAC tests, Horman said. Additionally, schools would not able to make changes that would jeopardize their accreditation status. Finally, participating schools would be bound by an agreement that includes performance goals and accountability metrics.

The superintendents of the Nampa and Melba school districts backed the bill, as did the Idaho School Boards Association. The Idaho Education Association opposed the bill.

The committee’s three Democrats opposed the bill, while the Republican majority supported it through a voice vote.

The bill next heads to the House floor, with a recommendation it pass.

Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert contributed to this report.