Statehouse roundup, 3.28.24: Senate rejects summer lunch program funding

The Senate Thursday rejected a Department of Health and Welfare budget over funding for a federal lunch program for children. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture this year made permanent a temporary pandemic program that offers low-income children free lunches over the summer. The Summer EBT program provides $40 monthly stipends to children eligible for free or reduced school lunches. The stipends, issued over three months, could be spent at stores that accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

Idaho would have covered half of the administrative cost of the program — $545,300 — while USDA would have covered the other half of administrative costs and 100% of the lunch money. USDA would have paid $16.3 million to cover lunches for 136,000 Idaho children, according to Health and Welfare’s budget request.

The budget failed in the Senate by a 10-25 vote. 

“We’re sending the wrong message to parents and kids that we’re going to keep providing for everybody without needing something in return,” said Sen. Cindy Carlson, R-Riggins. “I believe that the message we need to be sending is we all need to work for what we get.”

After the Senate vote, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee quickly met and passed a new budget bill without the lunch money. 

A motion from Rep. Brooke Green to continue funding the program failed in JFAC on an 8-12 vote. “Rest assured, I’ll always stand by ensuring that our children in the state of Idaho receive necessary nutrition over the summer,” said Green, D-Boise.

Along with Green’s fellow Democrats, five House Republicans supported funding the summer lunches: Reps. Matt Buddy of Mountain Home, Britt Raybould of Rexburg, Rod Furniss of Rigby, James Petzke of Meridian and Clay Handy of Burley.

After Green’s motion failed, the committee voted 16-4 to advance a new budget sans the lunch funding. Rep. Tina Lambert, R-Caldwell, was the sole GOP “no” vote.

House quietly puts sideboards around Launch

A bill to rework the fledgling Idaho Launch program is on its way to the Senate.

House Bill 741 marks the latest attempt to tweak Launch — which would provide up to $8,000 for high school graduates seeking to continue their education. In particular, this bill would change the definition of in-demand careers that qualify for Launch money.

The current definition hinges on job openings and industry growth. The new definition would incorporate other factors, such as training requirements.

The House didn’t debate HB 741, and then passed it on a narrow 38-31 vote. The bill now goes to the Senate.

‘Trailer bill’ transit continues

As legislative leaders continue to look for a roadmap to wrap up the 2024 session, they also look for ways to fix the far-reaching school facilities bill, House Bill 521.

And on Thursday afternoon, both houses took up competing “trailer” bills designed to replace pieces of HB 521. The complicated bill, which passed last week, provides $1 billion for school facilities, reduces income tax rates, and eliminates the August school election date, among other things.

The House Ways and Means Committee met quickly Thursday afternoon and introduced two new “trailer” bills.

One bill addresses a new issue, focused on the Oneida School District. This bill ensures that a district with a bond issue in place would receive as much money from HB 521 as it would have received from a bond levy equalization fund. HB 521 is eliminating this fund.

The language pertains only to Oneida, which passed a $29 million bond issue in 2023, said House Speaker Mike Moyle, R-Star, one of the bill’s co-sponsors.

Ways and Means’ second trailer bill ties together the Oneida language with familiar topics. The bill delays, by one year, a section of HB 521 discouraging districts from moving to a four-day calendar, adding that schools can meet attendance requirements by meeting minimums for school days or classroom hours. The bill also reprises language to stabilize charter school facilities funding — providing brick-and-mortar charters $400 per student and virtual charters $200 per student.

Moyle said he wrote a catchall bill as a backup plan, in case the Senate amends or bogs down other trailer bills. “I don’t want to be here forever and neither do you,” Moyle told committee members.

The Senate took up the issue Thursday. First, senators amended a House-passed bill to stabilize charter facilities funding, striking the four-day schools language entirely, and giving the Senate the power to confirm the State Board of Education’s executive director.

The Senate passed the amended bill 34-0.

The two houses have introduced at least seven HB 521 “trailers” in the waning days of the session.

Lawmakers hope to activate dormant facilities funding next session

A pair of lawmakers Thursday introduced another new plan to help schools fund facilities — but it won’t advance this legislative session. 

Reps. Rod Furniss, R-Rigby, and Soñia Galaviz, D-Boise, co-authored a bill that would activate $25 million set aside for school facilities nearly two decades ago. That money has been difficult to access and only two school districts have used the money since 2006, the Idaho Statesman reported last year. 

The funds would be transferred to a new grant account for needy school districts seeking help financing new buildings and maintenance. That would help fill gaps left by House Bill 521, the sweeping $2 billion facilities funding the Legislature recently passed. 

“We currently have school facilities that are in dire need, and the money that’s coming from (House Bill) 521 just isn’t enough money to make those schools whole,” Furniss said. 

The House Education Committee voted to introduce the bill but only to publicize the plan before the bill returns next legislative session.

Empowering Parents update heads governor

A bill adjusting a few rules for the Empowering Parents micro grant program is heading to the governor. 

Senate Bill 1358 allows recipients to spend grant funding within three years rather than within the current two-year timeframe. The bill also would clarify that students can use the grants for fee programs, such as sports or FFA, and that only Idaho students are eligible for the grants.

Only Rep. Stephanie Mickelsen raised questions about the bill before the House passed it on a 60-10 vote. But Mickelsen ultimately supported the bill after floating that the Legislature reviews the program next legislative session. 

“I don’t think that we need to be having taxpayers pay for extracurricular activities…That needs to be something that comes from the parents,” said Mickelsen, R-Idaho Falls. 

The Senate already approved the bill on a 30-2 vote.

Nonprofits inventory heads to governor’s desk

A bill designed to rein in and catalogue state-run nonprofits has passed the Legislature.

The House gave its final support to House Bill 708, which would prohibit new, state-affiliated nonprofits, and require agencies to catalog nonprofits that are already in operation.

Nonprofits can include college and university foundations and alumni associations.

With the House’s 59-11 vote, the bill now goes to Gov. Brad Little’s desk.

Ryan Suppe and Kevin Richert

Ryan Suppe and Kevin Richert

Senior reporter Ryan Suppe covers education policy, focusing on K-12 schools. He previously reported on state politics, local government and business. Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism.

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday