Statehouse roundup, 2.21.23: Advanced opportunities program could get funding boost

Idaho’s advanced opportunities program could get a $10 million upgrade.

The House Education Committee introduced a bill to expand the program, which allows K-12 students to take taxpayer-funded college classes and career-technical education classes.

The bill would make two changes:

First, it would lift the advanced opportunities cap. Currently, Idaho students have a $4,125 line of credit. This bill would increase the cap to $4,625.

Second, it would eliminate all spending caps for CTE programs. Students can now spend no more than $500 on a single CTE course, or no more than $1,000 a year on CTE programs.

The ideas for the bill came from conversations with three Rigby High School students, who devoted their senior project to promoting the advanced opportunities program, said Rep. Wendy Horman, the bill’s sponsor.

When discussing the program with students, the $4,125 cap came up. The $4,125 doesn’t quite cover enough credits for an associate’s degree. “For some students that is a barrier to completion,” said Horman, R-Idaho Falls. “This will change that.”

In 2021-22, the state spent $23.5 million on advanced opportunities. Horman’s bill calls for adding $10 million to the program, to cover an expected increase in use.

House Education voted unanimously to print the bill, which could come back to the committee for a full hearing at a later date.

Nonprofit group: ESA program costs could skyrocket quickly

The cost of a controversial education savings accounts bill could balloon from $45 million to $363 million within one year, as more parents apply for the funding.

That’s the conclusion of a nonpartisan group, which issued a report on the proposal Monday.

Last week, the Senate Education Committee approved Senate Bill 1038, which would provide $45 million in taxpayer-funded education savings accounts. Parents could use the money to cover the cost of homeschooling, or to cover private school tuition — effectively performing the same function as a voucher program.

The $45 million program would provide about 6,600 ESAs, worth $5,950 apiece. Sponsors have said the bill caps the first-year spending at $45 million, with the money going out on a first-come, first-served basis.

But based on the expansion of ESAs in Florida and Arizona, the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy forecasts that the state would provide more than 60,000 in 2024-25. And that would bring the cost to $363.8 million, the center concludes.

The center also says that the program would most likely benefit wealthier Idahoans. Based on research from the Grand Canyon Institute, 45% of Arizona’s ESA recipients have a household income exceeding $80,000, well above the state’s median income.

“The study also found no link between applications and public school districts with relatively lower performance results,” center President Alexandra Cerna Rios wrote Monday. “As a result, the primary beneficiaries of Arizona’s universal ESA policy are wealthier families with existing access to quality education.”

The longterm costs of the ESA program — and the possible effects on rural schools — were a recurring theme in last week’s Senate Education hearings. Bill sponsors said the size of the program would be determined by legislative spending bills. Critics said Idaho’s program would morph rapidly, like ESA programs in other states, sapping state funding for rural schools.

SB 1038 awaits a Senate vote.

Teacher apprenticeship plan clears Senate committee

A plan to create a paid teacher apprenticeship program is headed to the Senate floor.

The Senate Education Committee unanimously passed Senate Bill 1069, the State Board of Education’s apprenticeship proposal.

The apprenticeships would be geared toward aspiring teachers who have not yet received a bachelor’s degree.

The change in statute could also pave the way, eventually, to paying student teachers, said Tracie Bent, the State Board’s chief planning and policy officer.

SB 1069 now heads to the Senate floor for a vote.

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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