The House Education Committee today killed H646, the bill to seek more transparency of Education Management Organizations doing business with Idaho taxpayer dollars, despite about 90 minutes of testimony mostly in support of the bill. Although this was arguably the most important education bill of the session, few reporters were on hand since the State Senate Affairs Committee down the hall was hearing a controversial ultrasound bill.

“Idaho parents, teachers and voters are concerned that local school districts must make in-depth expenditure reports while out-of-state corporations face no such scrutiny,” Mike Lanza, co-chair with Maria Greeley of Idaho Parents and Teachers Together, said in a statement after the vote. “House Bill 646 would have given Idahoans a better look at how for-profit corporations are spending their tax dollars, but given the way lawmakers ignored public opinion last year, we are not surprised at the results. Fortunately, Idahoans will have the opportunity to overturn the 2011 laws that promote privatization of our public schools by voting No on Propositions 1, 2 and 3 this November.”

Bert Marley of the Idaho Education Association offered testimony from Erica Haynes, a Sandpoint teacher who worked for K12 Inc., which operates the Idaho Virtual Academy and iSucceed Virtual High School. Haynes spoke about how her student load grew from 160 to 300 students after K12 Inc. became publicly traded and the corporation started putting profits first.

“I didn’t feel like what I was doing every day was ethical or healthy for kids. … If I didn’t believe in it, I couldn’t keep doing it.  The failure rate was really, really high. There was a lot of pressure to pass students,” Haynes wrote. “We were trying to reach a 75 percent passing rate.  And at 250-300 students, there were some days I could not even open assignments before they were graded if I wanted to meet quota. In the end, it was so impersonal I couldn’t even remember my student’s names.” Haynes added that she is not opposed to online education and she now teaches both for Sandpoint High School and the not-for-profit Idaho Digital Learning Academy, which limits class sizes and emphasizes a team-teaching approach. 

As the bill sponsor, Rep. Brian Cronin (D-Boise) pointed out in his testimony before the committee, school districts are required to provide an accounting of how they spent taxpayer dollars. They also must make that report of expenditures available online. Shouldn’t organizations that, in lieu of a school district, be subject to some of the same transparency requirements? Regardless of whether it’s the district or the another organization spending the money, taxpayers deserve to see where it goes. The IEA is thankful to Rep. Cronin for his efforts to move this important discussion forward.

In other news today:

The House Education Committee also agreed to print a tuition tax credit bill from Chairman Bob Nonini (R-Coeur d’Alene). Although we've not yet seen a printed copy of the measure, Rep. Nonini outlined the provisions of the bill by pointing out that it would allow people to get a 100 percent state tax credit for giving money to fund private school scholarships.

The Senate Education Committee finally heard H564, the bill from Rep. JoAn Wood (R-Rigby) regarding employee records and Professional Standards Commission investigations. Following a new round of testimony from IEA General Counsel Paul Stark, the committee agreed to send the bill to the amending order. (It was earlier sent to the House amending order, but the IEA’s proposed amendments were not considered at that time.) Chairman John Goedde offered to facilitate a sit-down meeting between Rep. Wood and the IEA to talk over amendments. Also today, the Senate Education Committee passed H603, the bill to protect school districts from sharp enrollment drops. 

IEA Executive Director Robin Nettinga asked the Senate Resources & Environment Committee to hold H495, which would have significantly shortened timelines for the Idaho Land Board to make decisions regarding the acquisition and disposal of land in the best interest of the beneficiaries. It also would have limited the Land Board’s ability to diversify investments and maximize returns through the acquisition of business entities. In a highly unusual situation for the Legislature, no one on the committee made a motion on the legislation, so it is presumably dead for the year.

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