Statehouse roundup, 3.9.23: Charter commission budget fails, needs revisions

Updated March 13, 4:02 p.m. with comments from an Idaho Library Association representative.

The Idaho Public Charter Commission’s $825,700 budget failed on the House floor Thursday, which means the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee will have to cobble together a revised proposal.

House debate on House Bill 275 focused on one aspect of the charter commission’s budget — funding for an additional $96,700-a-year program manager. And the debate touched on a broader topic: whether the commission serves as a regulator of Idaho’s charter schools, or as an advocate for the charter sector.

JFAC co-chair Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, said the additional staffer would increase charter regulation — something she doesn’t think the commission should be focused on.

“This is a budget I cannot support,” Horman said.

The bill failed on the House floor with a 30-39 vote.

Results of Thursday’s House vote on the charter commission budget.

Thursdays vote could prolong the legislative session, which is targeted to end March 24.

The Legislature cannot adjourn without approving a charter commission budget — along with the K-12 budget which JFAC hasn’t touched yet. The committee approved a higher ed budget Thursday, but it still needs approval from the House and Senate.

When the charter commission budget first came before JFAC, on Feb. 23, the debate also focused on the program manager’s position, and the question of charter school regulation or charter school advocacy. At that time, JFAC rejected a budget that did not include the program manager’s position — ultimately approving the version of the budget that died on the House floor Thursday.

A full day at JFAC — and one delay

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee wrote up a budget bill for higher education Thursday morning — and that was just the start of the committee’s work.

JFAC approved several other budgets with education implications. Here’s the rundown:

Career-technical education. CTE would get a $15 million cut from the state’s new in-demand careers fund, with $10 million going into secondary programs and $5 million for postsecondary programs. The Legislature created the $80 million-a-year in-demand careers fund during the one-day special legislative session in September. Gov. Brad Little has proposed using the entire $80 million to fund Idaho Launch, which would provide high school graduates with $8,500 to pursue college or career training.

Empowering Parents. A State Board of Education budget contains $30 million to continue this program, which allows families to seek grants to cover out-of-pocket education costs such as computers and tutoring. In the past, the state has used federal coronavirus aid to fund the grant program. Little now wants to make the program permanent, using state dollars earmarked during September’s special session.

School security. A $20 million “supplemental” budget would immediately free up money for school safety and security grants. This is another budget request from Little. The state hopes to award the grants within a matter of weeks, so schools can work on upgrades during the summer break, State Board executive director Matt Freeman said.

Rural teachers. A new program to reward teachers in rural or disadvantaged schools is in line for a spending increase. The program could receive $1.25 million, up from $750,000. Eligible teachers can use the money to pay off student loans or continue their education.

An accounting move. In a rare session, the House Appropriations Committee met separate of its Senate colleagues Thursday afternoon. House Appropriations introduced two policy bills — including one that would redefine the $410 million in education spending from the September special session. This money is now considered a dedicated fund. The House Appropriations bill would shift those dollars into the general fund.

This bill would have to pass the House and the Senate.

A K-12 budget delay. JFAC had been scheduled to write up K-12 budget bills Friday morning. The committee has delayed that action until Monday morning.

Sex education ‘opt-in’ bill dies in committee

On day two of debate, the House Education Committee killed a sex education “opt-in” bill Thursday morning.

House Bill 272 would require written parental permission for children to take a sex education course. Currently, sex ed isn’t mandatory in Idaho — the law allows parents to opt their children out of the course.

Bill sponsor Rep. Elaine Price, R-Coeur d’Alene, described HB 272 as a parental rights bill. Supporters said Idaho’s current opt-out policies aren’t foolproof, and can result in students attending potentially harmful sex ed classes.

But other committee members worried the bill could stifle regular student-teacher conversations about hygiene and health, and make room for unwarranted lawsuits against schools and teachers. Rep. Soñia Galaviz, a longtime teacher, said she isn’t opposed to opt-in policies. But she told the committee HB 272 needs work.

The committee voted 9-7 to hold the bill.

Revised education savings accounts bill moves forward

Another education savings account bill is moving through the Statehouse.

Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, brought his revised ESA proposal back to the House Education Committee Thursday, after a previous version died last week. The proposal, known as the Idaho Education Opportunity Program, would funnel $6,975 into accounts for an estimated 2,000 low-income students to pay tuition at accredited private schools. Clow pegged the program’s annual cost at $17.5 million.

The new bill includes two changes from the original draft:

  • Clow added a 30-day deadline for the State Department of Education to approve/reject ESA applicants.
  • IEOP recipients would have to provide results of a nationally normed test to the SDE, proving the student is performing at grade level, or has shown one year of academic growth. The previous version required students to take a test, but not provide results to the state.

The changes were well-received by committee members — they introduced the bill with a 13-3 vote.

“I do appreciate Rep. Clow taking input and coming back to this committee,” said Rep. Steve Berch, D-Boise. “I think it deserves a full hearing.”

And Rep. Greg Lanting assured the committee that the bill will be brought back to House Education; he voted against the previous bill due to concerns that it would be rerouted.

“I have received both verbal and written confirmation from the Speaker,” said Lanting.

Free menstrual products bill introduced

A revised feminine hygiene bill cleared its first hurdle in the House Education Committee Thursday.

The bill would place free menstrual products in female and unisex bathrooms in middle and high schools. It comes with a $735,400 price tag.

Bill co-sponsor Rep. Lori McCann, R-Lewiston, says the bill would protect vulnerable girls who can’t afford or otherwise access period products.

“This is a basic need,” said McCann.

Rep. Soñia Galaviz, D-Boise, agreed. The need for menstrual products is apparent, Galaviz said, especially in the Title I schools she’s worked in.

Rep. Barbara Ehardt suggested a change to the bill, to ensure products aren’t placed in boys restrooms — a major concern for the Idaho Falls lawmaker. “I’m just not willing to play in that arena,” Ehardt said.

Her proposed amendment passed unanimously. The amended version of McCann’s bill awaits a full committee hearing.

New bill could change charter authorization law

The House Education Committee introduced a bill that would allow religious colleges to approve charter schools. Current Idaho law prohibits sectarian institutions from being charter authorizers.

Brought forward by bill sponsor Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, the bill also amends the accreditation requirements for a higher ed charter authorizer.

It was introduced with a unanimous vote.

House moves career exploration, student discipline bills

In an afternoon session, the House quickly passed two education bills:

Career exploration. House Bill 269 would require students to take a career exploration course in seventh or eighth grade. Without debate, the House passed on a 45-20 vote.

Student discipline. House Bill 281 would outlaw corporal punishment in schools, and would allow the use of seclusion or restraint only if a student poses an imminent danger. It passed 45-22.

Both bills go to the Senate.

Revised library materials bill set to return to State Affairs

The House State Affairs Committee was scheduled to hear a revised proposal to regulate library materials, but it was pulled from the agenda Thursday morning.

Last week, two competing library bills (one from Reps. Jaron Crane, R-Nampa and Cindy Carlson, R-Riggins, and Blaine Conzatti of the Idaho Family Policy Center; and another from the Idaho Library Association) died in the House Education Committee.

Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, told reporters the ILA and bill sponsors met after the heated meeting, and came out with a collaborative piece of legislation. But one section the ILA opposed to was accidentally left in, prior to Thursday’s meeting.

On March 13, EdNews received communication from Mary DeWalt, Vice President of the Idaho Library Association. DeWalt said Crane’s comment misrepresented the meeting between the sponsors and the library association.

“Members of the Idaho Library Association leadership team met with the Cranes and we discussed our issues with their legislation,” DeWalt said. “The new language is not reflective of what we could support as it continues to penalize librarians.”

Rep. Brent Crane said he plans to bring the draft back to the committee.

Senate passes voter ID restriction, financial literacy bill

Working into Thursday evening, the Senate sent two House-passed bills to Gov. Brad Little’s desk.

Voter ID. House Bill 124 would ban the use of student IDs as a form of voter identification.

Student IDs are seldom used at the polls — only 104 voters used them as ID during the November election. But student IDs are not uniform and secure. “What House Bill 124 is about is election integrity,” said Sen. Scott Herndon, R-Sagle, the bill’s co-sponsor.

House Minority Leader Melissa Wintrow debated against the bill. “Our laws communicate values,” said Wintrow, D-Boise. “I urge you to vote with our students and vote against this bill.”

The bill passed on a 28-7 vote.

Financial literacy. The Senate gave its unanimous support to House Bill 92, spelling out a new required course in financial literacy class.

The graduation requirement will be new, but the course itself isn’t. Some schools already incorporate financial literacy in their economics classes, said Sen. C. Scott Grow, R-Eagle, the bill’s Senate sponsor.

The financial literacy bill is one of new state superintendent Debbie Critchfield’s legislative priorities.



Kevin Richert and Sadie Dittenber

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