Weekly education news from the Statehouse

Leadership awards. A proposal to create $15.9 million in teacher leadership awards cleared the House on a 62-6 vote Thursday.

House Bill 504 would allow districts to award financial “premiums” to teachers who go above and beyond their duties. The awards would range between $850 and $5,780 a year based on variety of factors.

Teachers could receive awards for:

  • Teaching dual credit courses at the secondary level.
  • Teaching more than one subject in which they hold a certificate or endorsement.
  • Filling a hard-to-fill position, as defined by the district.
  • Providing mentoring or professional development to other teachers.
  • Teaching a course in which they hold a master’s degree.

The premiums would not be subject to the collective bargaining process and the awards would not be retroactive.

New money would be provided every year and school boards would decide how many teachers would receive awards – and for how much – based on the guidelines in the bill.

The bill next moves to the Senate, where it is expected to surface in the Senate Education Committee.

Hiring spouses. The House Education Committee is giving Rep. Marc Gibbs a third shot a bringing a bill to allow small school districts to hire spouses of school trustees.

MarcGibbs748
Rep. Marc Gibbs, R-Grace

The committee voted to hold House Bill 503, effectively killing it. But members did so knowing that Gibbs would return with a new piece of legislation that would address lingering concerns over the proposal.

On Jan. 29, Gibbs took his first crack at the issue, saying small rural school districts have a hard time filling positions and would benefit from being able to hire spouses to fill out their staffs.

That bill stalled, prompting Gibbs to introduce HB 503 on Feb. 12.

Jamie Holyoak, superintendent of the North Gem and Grace school districts backed the bill Thursday, saying the his districts are so small that they could not find music and drama teachers. Rather than cutting programs, Holyoak said trustees’ spouses are filling those positions on an unpaid basis and he wants to be able to compensate them.

“We just don’t have people qualified to fit the position,” Holyoak told lawmakers.

Committee members expressed concern that the move would pave the way for  potential conflicts of interest or for districts to tailor job descriptions with a trustee’s spouse specifically in mind.

Strategic planning. House Education passed a bill requiring districts and charter schools to develop strategic plans.

Idaho Falls Republican Rep. Wendy Horman introduced the bill Monday, and committee members voted unanimously Thursday to send it to the House floor.

WendyHorman2146
Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls

Horman said her bill is designed to satisfy two of the unanimous recommendations issued by Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education last summer.

House Bill 521 requires districts to include performance objectives in their plans, based on results for students. The bill would also call for the state to reimburse districts for up to $2,000 annually for ethics and governance training for school boards and administrators.

Districts would be required to develop the plan for the 2014-15 school year.

Horman said districts will not be required to submit plans to the state, but they will be required to post them to their district website and update them.

Cigarette taxes. The House Education Committee introduced a new bill Wednesday to change how cigarette tax money is distributed.

State Department of Education Deputy Chief of Staff Jason Hancock brought House Bill 528, which would funnel proceeds from the tobacco tax out of operations funds for school districts over a two-year period.

In recent years, the money had gone into operations funding to mitigate recession-era budget cuts.

Even with this move, Gov. Butch Otter and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna have called for restoring $35 million in operations funding next year.

Lottery. House Education passed a bill Wednesday to extend the lottery program that benefits public schools and buildings.

House Bill 478 would continue the current distribution format of the money. Three-eights of the proceeds would be directed to the permanent building fund, three-eighths would go to school facilities and one-fourth would go to the bond levy equalization fund.

The bill was brought because the program would expire in September without legislative intervention.

With the committee’s OK, the bill now goes to the House floor.

Ag programs. A $604,000 initiative to boost state agriculture education programs passed the Senate Wednesday.

Twin Falls Republican Sen. Jim Patrick’s bill does not identify a source of funding, but earmarks two uses for the budget boost. A $504,000 incentive grant program would go to top-performing ag teachers, and $100,000 in grants would allow school districts to start up or re-establish ag programs.

With Wednesday’s 34-0 Senate vote, Senate Bill 1275 heads to the House.

Class size. The Senate Education Committee wants the state to do a better job of tracking class sizes.

JanieWard-Engelking2091
Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise

On Wednesday he committee endorsed Senate Bill 1326, which would require the State Department of Education to put together a database and an annual report on class sizes.

The bill’s sponsor, Boise Democratic Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, said the accurate data will be needed as the state embarks on education reforms. “I don’t think it will be a difficult task for the Department of Education.”

The task for the state will be to work with the districts to get accurate data. “I’m not sure that we are right now,” he said.

The bill goes to the Senate floor.

Labor bills. With minimal debate, and without objection, the Senate voted Tuesday to keep three school labor laws on the books for one more year.

The bills would extend three laws passed in 2013: a law requiring school districts to consider factors other than seniority, if they are required to reduce staff; a law eliminating ongoing “evergreen clauses” in contracts; and a law allowing school districts to reduce staff salaries.

The 2013 laws restored sections of the Proposition 1 labor overhaul rejected by voters in November 2012. But the extensions, designed to allow further study of the laws’ impacts, had support from the Idaho Education Association, the Idaho School Boards Association and the Idaho Association of School Administrators.

Physical education. It took four motions, and three defeated motions, but the Senate Education Committee finally signed onto a rule governing physical education Tuesday.

Under the new rule, high school athletes will be able to receive one credit for participating in varsity or club sports.

But the new rule won’t change anything in grade schools or middle schools. Following House Education’s lead, senators rejected language that would have required 60 minutes of P.E. a week in grade school, and 200 minutes every two weeks in middle school.

Hancock said the bill would return the cigarette tax money to its statutory purpose and provide money for school safety and security initiatives.

The pool of money in question totals about $4.7 million, with $200,000 going to the Idaho State Police for lab costs and $80,000 for substance abuse efforts by the Commission on Hispanic Affairs. The balance of the funds would go to districts for substance abuse or school safety measures.

Hancock said the move aligns with Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna’s 2014-15 budget request.

Vice Chairman Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, pushed to introduce the bill, saying the merits of the proposals need to be debated during a full hearing in front of the committee.

Otter school choice, 2.17.14
Gov. Butch Otter fields a couple of student questions at a charter school rally at the Statehouse Monday.

School choice. Joined by parents and school choice advocates, Idaho charter school students gathered on the Statehouse steps Monday to rally for equitable funding.

In particular, Lori Clooney of the Colorado Coalition of Cyberschool Families put in a pitch for closing the funding gap for the state’s seven virtual charter schools — a discrepancy she pegged at $1,500 per student.

“We need policymakers and the public at large to know that these schools are working so well,” Clooney said.

The 2013 Legislature passed a bill allowing the state’s 41 brick-and-mortar charter schools to receive stipends to offset some building costs, but the bill language does not apply to virtual schools.

Gov. Butch Otter also spoke to the rally, saying school choice can only serve to improve the state. “You are right at the heart of it.”

The annual charter school event was part of a day of Presidents Day rallies and protests at the Statehouse. The event coincided with an “Add the Words” protest on all four floors of the Rotunda, as demonstrators urged the Legislature to provide anti-discrimination protections to gays, lesbians and transgender Idahoans.

Top teachers. Idaho teacher of the year Jamie Esler and Milken Award recipient Katie Graupman made the rounds at Statehouse education committees Monday, with a common message.

Both urged the Legislature to boost funding for schools.

Esler, who teaches at Coeur d’Alene’s Lake City High School, was honored for his work on the Confluence Project — a hands-on collaboration that provides students at six high schools with the chance to collect on-the-ground water data. But the project is funded largely through grants — and its future is in “limbo,” he said, pending the outcome of an Environmental Protection Agency grant application.

This funding uncertainty isn’t unique, Esler said, and doesn’t only affect “innovative” programs. A growing number of school districts have come to depend on voter-approved supplemental property tax levies. “Supplemental levies are no longer supplemental. They are crucial.”

Graupman urged the education committees to implement the 20 recommendations from Gov. Butch Otter’s education reform task force. Minutes before her House Education Committee testimony, lawmakers approved a $15.9 million teacher leadership “premium” bill — a down payment on a $253 million teacher career ladder overhaul.

Graupman cited several of the task force recommendations, from enhanced training and collaboration to restoring $82.5 million in district operational funding, cut during the recession.

“All of this will require money,” said Graupman, an English and journalism teacher at Spirit Lake’s Timberlake High School. “Idaho students deserve the best educators, and the best educators deserve your support.