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Facilities Bill Awaits Final Legislative Hurdle

March 8, 2024

The legislation providing $150 million in new annual funding to help school districts begin fixing an enormous backlog of updates and repairs to school buildings across Idaho took another step toward becoming law this week.

On Tuesday, the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee overwhelmingly endorsed House Bill 521, sending it to the full Idaho Senate for deliberation. The bill is expected to clear that final legislative hurdle next week and go to Gov. Brad Little’s desk to be signed into law. Little introduced the bill’s concept at the start of this year’s legislative session.

House Bill 521 provides $150 million in new state spending annually for school facilities generated by the state’s purchase of a 10-year bond worth $1 billion. The legislation also redirects $50 million in lottery revenue and $25 million in sales tax revenue to a new school district facilities fund added to the facilities fund.

IEA leaders endorsed the concept as “an important step toward creating equity in Idaho’s public schools” when it was unveiled by Gov. Brad Little at the start of the legislative session.

“For far too long, Idaho policymakers have ignored the daunting backlog of facilities needs leaving too many of Idaho’s students literally out in the cold,” said IEA President Layne McInelly in January. “Requiring supermajorities of local voters to approve bonds for school construction and forcing school districts to rely on voter-approved levies for basic operational needs creates huge inequities for less-affluent communities that cannot afford to tax themselves.”

IEA’s lobby team also worked with education stakeholders on House Bill 521’s development and vocally supported it through the legislative process — while also recognizing the bill’s shortcomings.

Critics say the bill falls far short of addressing the full backlog of facilities needs facing school districts across the state. It also includes provisions unpopular with some lawmakers, including:

  • Removal of the August election date for school district elections, leaving only the May and November ballot dates in place.
  • Requiring school districts to submit a 10-year facilities plan and agreeing to a five-day school week, unless four-day schools meet minimum contract and instructional day requirements set by the State Board of Education
  • Requiring districts’ compliance with the state’s anti-critical race theory law and agree that their job applicants will not be required to sign “written diversity statements.

“House Bill 521 is not a panacea,” said Chris Parri, IEA political director, in his testimony before House and Senate committees in support of the bill. “Many communities will still rely on bonds and levies to meet their commitments to students and removing local control over the August election date doesn’t help that problem. But nevertheless, House Bill 521 is a step in the right direction.”

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