Statehouse roundup, 1.20.23: Little’s scholarship bill quietly makes its debut

Gov. Brad Little’s student scholarship bill quietly made its debut Thursday. But there’s one big wrinkle.

The proposed In-Demand Careers Fund would replace — and essentially incorporate — the existing Idaho Opportunity Scholarship.

Sponsored by House Majority Leader Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett, House Bill 19 would create a one-time, $8,500 scholarship for all high school graduates, starting in 2024. The money could go towards a two- or four-year college degree, a career-technical certificate, or workforce training. The preference would go to students pursuing high-demand jobs.

The scholarship program is Little’s plan for spending an $80 million-a-year in-demand career training line item, approved by lawmakers in September.

But the new program could offer $102 million in scholarships, not $80 million. That’s because HB 19 would phase out the Opportunity Scholarship and Idaho’s Postsecondary Credit Scholarship. Those phaseouts would free up an additional $22 million to fold into the In-Demand Careers Fund.

The proposed phaseouts answer one of several unanswered questions about the new scholarship program — how, or whether, the new scholarship would coordinate with the Opportunity Scholarship.

The answer: They won’t interact at all. The Opportunity Scholarship would shut down on July 1 — although recipients would still be eligible for scholarship renewals.

Currently, about 6,300 students receive the Opportunity Scholarship. For some students, it can be a more lucrative scholarship than the proposed in-demand careers program: Opportunity Scholarship recipients can get up to $3,500 for four years, or $14,000 total.

In his State of the State address on Jan. 9, Little hailed the in-demand scholarship proposal as “the single largest investment in career-technical and workforce education in state history.” It would also be the largest postsecondary scholarship program in state history.

There was also a procedural wrinkle in Thursday’s bill introduction.

HB 19 was introduced not in the House Education Committee, but in the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee. The reason appeared to center on which state agency would administer the scholarships. Idaho’s Workforce Development Council, and not the State Board of Education, would be in charge of the program.

“Workforce development bills historically have been heard by the commerce committees but matters of printing and assigning bills are up to the Legislature,” said Madison Hardy, a spokeswoman for Little.

HB 19 will be assigned to a House committee on Monday for a full hearing. A bill is usually assigned back to the committee that printed it, but this isn’t always the case.

What Boise State’s survey says about education in Idaho

Education remains a top priority for Idahoans.

But when it comes to school choice, the answer is muddy.

Those are a couple of education takeaways from Boise State University’s annual Idaho Public Policy Survey, released Friday.

Here is a closer look at the survey responses, with a focus on education:

Idaho’s No. 1 priority — again. When asked to set priorities for the 2023 Legislature, more than 72% of Idahoans said education was a very important issue to them. No issue ranked higher. But this isn’t much of a surprise. Education has ranked as Idahoans’ top priority in all eight years of the current Boise State survey.

(The runner-up top priority issue? Jobs and the economy, at 64%.)

Grading Idaho’s schools. Once again, a plurality of Idahoans gave the school system a middling grade.

In all, 35% of respondents said Idaho’s school system is fair. Meanwhile 27% said the school system is good, and 27% rated the system as poor. Only 4% gave the school system a grade of excellent.

In general, Republicans and independents were more likely to give the school system a high grade, while Democrats were more likely to grade the system as either fair or poor.

Grading local schools. As in past years, Idahoans give their local schools higher marks.

All told, 34% of respondents said their local schools are good, and 10% said their local schools are excellent. Meanwhile, 31% or respondents graded local schools as fair, and 18% gave local schools a grade of poor.

Half of Republican respondents rated local schools as good or excellent, compared to 46% of Democratic respondents and 40% of independents.

What about the $330 million? When asked about the $330 million in new, annual K-12 funding, approved by lawmakers in September, respondents appear to be on the same page with Little.

All told, 37% of respondents said teacher pay raises would be the best use of the money — and that support cuts across party lines.

Here’s how other spending options stack up:

  • Improving curriculum: 20%.
  • Reducing classroom sizes: 17%.
  • Adopting school choice: 12%.
  • Adding new technology to classrooms: 8%.

Little has proposed putting $145.6 million of the new funding into teacher pay raises.

What about school choice? All told, 49% of respondents said they would favor plans that would siphon state money out of public schools, while 43% said they opposed the plan. That puts the margin within the survey’s 3.1% margin of error.

There was a glitch in the question, however, said Matthew May, Boise State’s survey research director. The question erroneously suggested a school choice plan would fund charter schools. That isn’t the case; unlike private and parochial schools, charter schools already receive public dollars.

That error could have skewed responses — from charter school parents and charter school opponents alike. “It could go both ways,” May said. “We have no way of gauging its overall impact.”

When asked how they would feel about a school choice plan that reduces local public school funding, 44% of respondents said they would be less likely to support the policy. Meanwhile, 34% said their opinions wouldn’t change, and 14% of respondents said they would be more supportive of the proposal.

The Idaho Public Policy Survey was conducted in November; researchers contacted a representative sample of 1,000 Idahoans, via phone, text and Internet.


Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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