In a dramatic and unusual move, the House Education Committee killed its chairman’s bill to rewrite Idaho’s public school funding formula during an introductory hearing Monday morning.
Meanwhile, the Senate State Affairs Committee successfully introduced a different funding formula overhaul bill Monday — in a perfunctory, procedural vote. That move clears the path for the Senate Education Committee to hold a full hearing.
“I’m hopeful that we can do something yet this week,” said Senate Education Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, who is co-sponsoring his funding formula bill with Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian.
The emergence of the Senate bill appeared to be a factor in the death of the House funding formula bill. Monday’s wild developments came very late in the 2019 legislative session where the funding formula proposal was expected to be the most closely watched education proposal of the year. At issue is a proposal to abandon Idaho’s 25-year-old attendance-based funding formula and replace it with an enrollment-based model where money follows the student.
Monday’s action began at 8 a.m., when Senate State Affairs voted to introduce the Senate bill as a courtesy to Senate Education, which does not have the authority to introduce new bills this late in the session.
Then, at 8:30 a.m., House Education voted to kill the House bill. Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, and Vice Chairman Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, worked for weeks to develop their bill, based on feedback from education groups and some Republican and Democratic House and Senate members.
A showdown in House Education
Normally, introductory hearings are straightforward affairs. When a chairman brings his or her own bill to their own committee for introduction, such bills are often introduced without a hiccup as a courtesy.
Clow asked the committee to introduce the draft bill — known as a “routing slip” or RS — so that it would become a bill and be available for the public to start a conversation. Under legislative rules, routing slips are not public documents.
“There is also another group that has not weighed in and that is the public,” Clow said. “The value of putting an RS out … in front of this committee so this committee can hear testimony about the importance of this.”
But that is not what House Education did.
In a setback to Clow and Kerby, committee members went against them and killed the bill.
Reps. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, and Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, were major players in the effort to kill Clow’s bill.
Boyle said the Senate bill more closely reflects the work of the legislative interim committee that spent three years developing the basic framework for a funding formula overhaul.
DeMordaunt seized on a minor, late correction to Clow’s draft that was caught late Friday, while Clow was driving home for the weekend. There were enough late changes and edits needed to Clow’s bill, DeMordaunt said, that she felt comfortable holding it.
On an 8-7 vote, a deeply divided committee voted to return Clow’s bill to the sponsor, effectively killing it.
The roll call:
Yes: Reps. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls; Bill Goesling, R-Moscow; Gary Marshall, R-Idaho Falls; Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley; Jerald Raymond, R-Menan; and Tony Wiesnewski, R-Post Falls; Boyle; DeMordaunt.
No: Reps. Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene; Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins; Chris Abernathy, D-Pocatello; Steve Berch, D-Boise; and John McCrostie, D-Garden City; Clow; Kerby.
Afterward, a frustrated Berch told Idaho Education News that he is not happy with how the process to consider rewriting Idaho’s school funding formula has played out.
“What happened today was absolutely disgraceful,” Berch said. “We have spent months working on legislation that was just thrown out the door today in favor of a bill that this committee never saw and, apparently, only a handful of people behind the scenes did get to see. That is not how we should be making decisions.”
The scene shifts to the Senate
It’s unclear what Monday’s developments mean for the prospects of rewriting Idaho’s funding formula this year.
Mortimer said he was “very surprised” by the House action. He remains hopeful about the prospects of the Senate bill — although he notes that there is “a lot more commonality” between the Senate and House versions of the bill than there are differences.
The versions differ on at least one prominent education line item; the 65-page Senate version leaves a standalone $36.5 million classroom technology line item intact, while the House wanted to run that money through the larger formula.
On the biggest line item — teacher salaries — the two proposals agree. Both bills would eliminate the teacher career ladder line item, a proposed $803.4 million for next year. This money would instead run through the funding formula.
The Senate bill does incorporate language from the career ladder — a salary schedule that has been adopted by some school districts, but not all of them. Districts would still have the option of adopting the career ladder, or a salary schedule of their choosing, Mortimer and Den Hartog said Monday.
Questions about the process
Comments during and after Monday’s House Education meeting reveal potential roadblocks for the Senate bill as well.
McCrostie, the only House Education member who also served on the legislative interim committee, said he and fellow interim committee veteran Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, were excluded from helping draft the Senate version. He described the Senate bill as a Republican bill, not a bipartisan bill.
“I believe this (Clow-sponsored bill) is more reflective of combined efforts of the work of the committee and the input received from stakeholders,” McCrostie said.
Idaho Education Association director of public policy Matt Compton said education groups worked collaboratively to develop Clow’s House bill. Compton said he wasn’t familiar enough with the Senate version to know if it closely reflected the education groups’ wishes.
But as the Senate bill moves into the forefront, Mortimer and Den Hartog defended the process to date.
Over the course of more than three weeks, education groups and legislators met regularly to work through the language of the bill, and Republican and Democratic lawmakers were at the table, Mortimer said.
Said Den Hartog: “I felt like everyone came to these meetings with a willingness to find solutions.”