Statehouse roundup, 3.9.17: House Education backs field trip funding bill

The House Education Committee Thursday endorsed a bill to restore transportation funding for school field trips.

Chairwoman Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, pushed Senate Bill 1123. The bill would again provide state funding for busing for approved school activities, such as field trips.

When the Great Recession prompted budget cuts and holdbacks in 2009, the Legislature repealed field trip funding, VanOrden said. Now, state revenues and school budgets are rising, prompting VanOrden and Sens. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, and Jim Guthrie, R-Inkom, to seek to restore field trip funding.

Nobody testified against the bill or voted against it.

Boise Democratic Rep. John McCrostie, a current teacher, moved to send the bill to the House floor with a recommendation it passes.

“This is a great opportunity for our young people and our teachers to get out there and do field trips and do things they are not able to do in the classroom setting by itself,” McCrostie said.

The House floor is the last legislative hurdle for SB 1123. It passed the Senate 34-1 on Tuesday.

Bad weather bill

The Idaho House overwhelmingly passed a bill designed to offer some relief to school districts reeling from winter weather closures.

Pushed by Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, House Bill 242 would allow school districts to apply for a waiver from minimum instructional requirements, due to extended school closures stemming from severe winter storms.

Districts would be able to seek the waiver if the state or the school’s home county is under a formal disaster declaration. Half of Idaho’s 44 counties issued disaster declarations this year, Boyle said.

District officials would also be required to explain to the State Board of Education the efforts made to make up for that lost time.

Sustained snowstorms are forcing several districts to consider extending the school year well into the summer. “By Jan. 27, some Magic Valley schools had used up all of their snow days and extra time built in,” Boyle said. “I’m asking you to support this to help our schools out.”

Nobody debated against the bill, which passed 68-1. Only Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, voted against the bill.

HB 242 next heads to the Senate for consideration.

Rural teacher recruitment

A pair of Idaho Democrats pushed a new bill Thursday designed to recruit teachers to rural school districts by forgiving some of their student loan debt.

Reps. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, and Paulette Jordan, D-Plummer, are seeking $3 million annually in state funding to help offset student loans from teachers who graduate from an Idaho college or university and then take a job in a rural Idaho school district.

The bill is designed to serve as an incentive for prospective teachers and to address teacher shortages. Toone, a retired teacher with 37 years’ classroom experience, said the state began the 2016-17 school year with 120 classrooms that it could not find teachers for.

For Jordan, the issue is personal — and one of the reasons she decided to run for office. Four years ago, Jordan said her local superintendent told her the school did not have the resources to teach her child and recommended sending the student to a neighboring district in Coeur d’Alene or Spokane, Wash.

Lamenting Idaho’s teacher shortage, cuts to gifted and talented programs and Idaho districts’ increased reliance on school bonds and supplemental levies, Jordan opted to send her children across the state line to Spokane.

That story prompted Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, to push the committee to introduce the Democrats’ bill.

“It’s tragic a sitting Idaho legislator would have to educate their children outside the state of Idaho because we have a shortage here in Idaho,” Crane said. “I think the issue merits discussion.”

Introducing the bill clears the way for a full committee hearing, which would likely take place before the House Education Committee. Lawmakers continue to target a March 24 adjournment deadline, so the bill would need to advance quickly to have a chance to be passed into law.

New electioneering bill

House Ways and Means gave the preliminary go-ahead to Rep. Jason Monks’ latest bill designed to prevent taxpayer-funded electioneering.

The new bill fixes some wording and details, but Monks is still seeking the same objective. Monks, R-Nampa, wants legislation that would prevent local governments from using public resources to campaign for bond issues or levies. Education lobbyists criticized the first version of his bill.

With Ways and Means’ approval, the new bill could go back to a committee for another hearing, or go straight to the House floor.

School elections bill amended – but just slightly

Sen. Mary Souza’s bill to move school board elections went through a turbulent process on the Senate floor.

One amendment reopened the debate over when trustee races should appear on a ballot.

Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, wants to move these elections to November in even-numbered years, when voters also elect presidents, governors and members of Congress. Souza hopes the move would increase turnout for school board elections.

Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, pushed to move the election to November in odd-numbered years, to coincide with nonpartisan city elections. Ward-Engelking got some support from Senate Republicans, but her amendment failed. Senate Democrats also sought to tack in other election-related amendments, but these were ruled out of order. (Details from Betsy Russell of the Spokane Spokesman-Review.)

With a minor amendment, sought by Souza, Senate Bill 1103 now awaits a final Senate vote.

Honoring Sonia Galaviz

House Education advanced a resolution honoring Boise teacher Sonia Galaviz.

Sonia Galaviz

Last month, Galaviz received the National Education Association Foundation’s Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence and a $25,000 prize. Galaviz was selected from a pool of 43 public school teachers who were nominated by their state education associations.

She teaches fifth grade at Boise’s Garfield Elementary School.

In addition to her classroom leadership, Galaviz is known for promoting computer science and STEM disciplines, as well as making home visits to connect with each of her student’s families.

Galaviz attended Thursday’s committee meeting, and encouraged lawmakers to support education through proper funding levels and taking the time to understand what it takes to be an educator in public schools.

“We invite high standards,” Galaviz said. “Support us and help us get there.”

House Concurrent Resolution 26 heads to the floor with a recommendation it passe after House Education supported it unanimously.

Further reading: Get to know Galaviz through Idaho Education News’ 2015 feature on her commitment to students and families.

Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert contributed to this report.