Health Care, Standardized Tests, Two Senate Bills

As the third full week of the 2022 session of the Idaho Legislature comes to a close, a number of bills related to education are making their way through the legislative process. Here’s a quick rundown:

Health Care Insurance for Educators

On Monday, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved the first in a series of bills that empowers public school districts to offer employees affordable health insurance through the State of Idaho’s employee health insurance plan. The 55-14 vote on House Bill 443 was hailed by lawmakers and education stakeholders as a long-overdue “game-changer” for educators.

On Monday, the bill will be presented to the Senate Education Committee Monday by its co-sponsors, Rep. Rod Furniss (R-Rigby) and Rep. Wendy Horman (R-Idaho Falls). The legislation is part of Governor Brad Little’s robust slate of education proposals that also includes an 11 percent increase in overall education spending, pay increases for educators, and increased funding for all-day kindergarten.

The proposals, especially the health insurance and pay increases for educators, are seen as essential for recruiting and retaining educators after two of the most difficult years the profession has ever faced.

“Currently we’re seeing nearly 50% of Idaho’s educator workforce actively considering leaving employment in the districts,” Idaho Education Association Executive Director Paul Stark told the House Judiciary Committee last week. “The cost of health care for educators and their families is part of that, and is particularly onerous in rural districts.” 

Teacher of the Year, Todd Knight addressing members of the House and Senate education committees

Teacher of the Year Calls for Standardized Test Changes

Idaho’s Teacher of the Year Todd Knight, an IEA member, told members of the House and Senate education committees Wednesday that “standardized tests are not helping our students or teachers in the way they are currently administered, written and used.”

Knight, who spoke to the committees in his Teacher of the Year role, said tests like the Idaho Standards Achievement Test and others are too high stakes for students and should be retooled to put more emphasis on student improvement throughout the school year, rather than subject area proficiency at the end of the year.

Here’s a link to media coverage of Knight’s remarks.

Self-Directed Learners

Legislation drafted by Senate Education Chairman Steven Thayn (R-Emmett) was re-introduced in the Senate Education Committee on Thursday.

Senate Bill 1238 allows students who demonstrate the ability to be self-directed as a learner greater flexibility in their education through a designation by educators. This includes “flexible attendance,” attending school virtually, “extended learning opportunities, and any other agreed-upon learning inside or outside the classroom,” according to the legislation.

The reintroduced legislation strengthens the standards for educators can certify these students. The IEA supports the reintroduced version of this legislation.

Den Hartog Introduces Empowering Parents Grant Initiative

Sen. Lori Den Hartog (R-Meridian) introduced legislation Wednesday that provides grants of up to $1,000 per student (capped at $3,000 per family) for education expenses. Senate Bill 1242 is an extension of Gov. Brad Little’s 2021 Empowering Parents initiative, borne of the education-related stresses the pandemic placed on families, that provided 18,000 Idaho families with smaller grants for education-related expenses.

During his State of the State address on Jan. 10, Little recommended putting $50 million into this year’s iteration of the program. Den Hartog’s bill provides for stepped eligibility based on household income, with the starting point being $60,000 annually.

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