Ybarra’s rural education proposal dead for session

In what was probably its last meeting for 2016, the Senate Education Committee sent three last-minute bills to the Senate floor.

State superintendent Sherri Ybarra’s rural schools center bill didn’t make the cut. That means the $300,000 pilot plan is likely dead for the year — a day after a divided House of Representatives passed the Ybarra bill.

“I don’t think we’ve had sufficient time to even digest what it is,” Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, said after Thursday morning’s meeting.

Mortimer’s concerns aren’t new, and aren’t particularly surprising. He and his colleagues on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee declined to incorporate Ybarra’s proposal into their budget. He and other key legislators have said they needed more details about the proposal.

But that didn’t deter House members from pushing for a vote, and passing the bill on Wednesday. Supporters said they wanted to try out the plan — which would allow rural districts to shop for a menu of education services that might not be available to them otherwise.

Wednesday’s 44-26 vote reflected the deep divisions over the rural center, Ybarra’s centerpiece legislative proposal. House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt and Vice Chair Julie VanOrden voted against the center. So did five of the eight House Republicans on JFAC, including Chair Maxine Bell and Vice Chair Marc Gibbs.

In a statement Thursday, Ybarra said she would bring the proposal back in 2017.

“We had a lot of support but unfortunately we just ran out of time,” she said. “I wanted to show my support for our rural districts in Idaho, so we will continue this work during the next session as it’s something that provides equity and equal opportunity for our rural students to achieve.”