Prior to the upcoming primary elections, we decided to review how some of the Idaho Freedom Foundation favorites in the Idaho Legislature performed on a number of education bills that will have a major impact on the future of education in Idaho.
According to the Boise State University Annual Public Policy Survey (2022) Idahoans continue to consistently identify education as their top legislative priority. So let’s review a few of the education bills that were addressed in the most recent legislative session.
We selected several education funding bills that were passed in both the house and senate chambers of the legislature and signed by the governor into law, with one exception. House Bill 723, vetoed by Gov. Little, would have changed the state formula from funding schools based on their average daily attendance (ADA) to basing funding on student enrollment. The issue will likely reemerge in the future as Idaho is only one of seven states that continues to use the controversial and archaic ADA formula.
Other bills we reviewed included:
- The measure that provides funds that districts could possibly use to move educators and support staff to the state insurance plan (House Bill 443).
- House Bill 790, which significantly increases funding for K-3 literacy interventions, including allowing schools to offer optional full-day kindergarten.
- House bills 792 through 797, the annual appropriations bills that funds school operations for the next fiscal year.
- Senate Bill 1290, which creates financial incentives to attract educators to work in rural schools and/or high need public and charter schools.
The legislators whose voting records we chose to review represent the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s highest ranked representatives, according to their IFF Freedom Index. We include the five representatives who scored 100% (A+) on that index: Chad Christensen (Iona), Karey Hanks (St. Anthony), Ron Nate (Rexburg), Tammy Nichols (Middleton), and Heather Scott (Blanchard). They are the IFF “All-Stars.”
We also included five representatives who serve on the House Education Committee, are up for reelection, and whose IFF Freedom Index scores were 75% (C) or higher: Judy Boyle (Midvale), Ron Mendive (Coeur d’Alene), Gayann DeMordaunt (Eagle), Barbara Ehardt (Idaho Falls), and Tony Wisniewski (Post Falls). These are the IFF “Fab Five.” Dorothy Moon, a member of the House Education Committee with an IFF Index score of 95% (A), is running for a statewide office and not included in this analysis.
The other members of the House Education Committee all received grades of D or F from the IFF Freedom Index, including House Education Committee Chairman Lance Clow (R-Twin Falls, 59%, F) and Vice Chairman Ryan Kerby (R-New Plymouth, 59%, F).
The Freedom Foundation All-Stars voted against nearly all of the eight bills included in our review:
- Heather Scott voted against every education bill.
- Chad Christensen and Tammy Nichols both voted against all but one of the bills.
- Karey Hanks only voted for the appropriation bill that funds school operations, including transportation. Hmmm, interesting…she lists her occupation as a bus driver.
- Ron Nate voted for two of the bills (the teachers’ salary bill and the bill to fund the State Department of Education operations). Otherwise, he voted NO for moving educators to the state insurance plan, NO for funding schools on enrollment, NO for the enhanced literacy intervention funds, NO for the recruitment of educators to rural schools, and NO for the other school appropriation bills.
THE “FAB FIVE”
As for the IFF Fab Five (Boyle, Mendive, DeMordaunt, Ehardt, and Wisniewski), theirs was a “mixed bag” of votes. All five voted NO for the literacy enhancement bill, which passed the House on a 40-29-1 vote, was approved by the Senate and signed into law by the governor. All of the House Ed committee members, except Boyle, voted NO for creating a financial incentive to attract and retain educators to work in rural schools, an interesting negative from members of the germane committee who know about the shortage of educators in mostly rural Idaho and still voted against a bill that found its way to the governor’s desk for his signature.
The Fab Five were varied in their support and opposition for the appropriations bills that will make up the Fiscal Year 2023 state school budget. They were nearly unanimous however, except Ehardt, in their opposition to the bill to finance a raise for school administrators. Perhaps an attempt to send a message to administrators across the state? In any case, the bill passed the House by a 51-17-2 vote, the Senate by a large majority and was signed by the governor, so a message was clearly sent, and received.
It’s important to note that there was one bill that was held in the Education Committee on an 8-7 vote. House Bill 669 would have allocated up to nearly $6,000 in state funds per student that could be used to pay for their private school tuition. All of the Fab Five on the House Education Committee voted in favor of the voucher bill and against public schools. Ultimately the bill failed and the Idaho State Constitution was upheld. Preventing the bill from advancing supports our organization’s (RISE) public opinion poll conducted last fall revealing that a vast majority of Idahoans want the legislature to focus on funding public schools and NOT promoting private schools vouchers.
So as we prepare to vote in the May 17 primaries, we encourage you to consider how the legislative candidates in your district have or have NOT, will or will NOT, support our Idaho public schools in the future. Choose wisely.