Ybarra rural schools bill sails through committee

State superintendent Sherri Ybarra’s rural education proposal cleared its first big political hurdle Thursday morning.

And with the House Education Committee’s unanimous support.

The committee sent House Bill 223 to the House floor, where a vote could occur early next week.

HB 223 would create a pilot Rural Education Support Network, designed to help small districts collaborate, pool resources and acquire the services they need. Ybarra wants to put $300,000 a year into the three-year pilot program.

Beyond that, it would be up to local school officials to figure out how to put together the pilot. And that’s by design, according to Ybarra and her chief policy adviser, Duncan Robb. They said their goal is to create a framework, since overtaxed rural administrators have too little time to explore and create partnerships.

“The ball just keeps getting dropped,” Ybarra said.

Rep. Ryan Kerby, a retired school superintendent, attested to the challenges to collaboration. If anything, he said, the pilot program is too modest.

“This is extremely slimmed down, about as far as it can go,” said Kerby, R-New Plymouth. “Someone has to do the legwork.”

Supporters listed several areas where rural schools could collaborate — such as sharing hard-to-find special education staff, partnering on classroom technology initiatives and teaming up for training on teacher evaluations.

This collaboration could address what Monsanto lobbyist Trent Clark called an “untenable” situation — affecting his company’s 1,000 employees and their children, who attend schools in small-town Idaho.

“We’re creating a two-class system of education in Idaho,” Clark said.

And by putting state seed money into collaboration, Ybarra says the state could help local districts stretch their limited resources.

“Do we really want to send our rural districts back to the ballot box for more property taxes?” said Ybarra, citing the $700 million in bond issues and school tax levies that will appear on ballots across Idaho on March 14.

This will be the second time the House votes on an Ybarra rural initiative. A $300,000 pilot passed the House in the final days of the 2016 session, but the Senate took no action on the bill.

 

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