Despite an AG opinion that sounded much like Proverbs 8:33: Listen to my instruction and be wise; do not disregard it, members of the House Education Committee approved SB 1342 on Thursday. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll (R-Cottonwood), permits public schools to use the Bible and other religious texts.
To be clear, public schools have always been permitted to teach about the Bible and other religious texts as history or literature, as long as the approach is academic and not devotional, and as long as the religious text is not presented as religious truth. However, by specifically calling out the use of the word “Bible” in the legislation, the AG opinion pointed out that the bill could “raise a religious preference issue” and that is specifically prohibited by Idaho’s Constitution.
Several lawmakers cited the AG opinion in an attempt to move the bill to the amending order to remove the words “Bible and other religious texts” and instead insert the more neutral language “religious texts” as a way to stave off an almost-guaranteed legal challenge.
In the end, the three Democrats and Rep. Lance Clow (R-Twin Falls) lost that bid. The bill now moves to the full House for consideration.
Ed Panels Discuss School Choice
Members of the House and Senate Education Committees met in a rare joint session to hear a presentation from Rep. Ronald Nate (R-Rexburg) about school choice and the Blaine Amendment—which is a provision in 38 of the 50 state constitutions forbidding direct government aid to religious institutions.
Committee members spent nearly 50 minutes listening to Rep. Nate and two other speakers-one representing private schools-tout the importance of school choice and the history of the Blaine Amendment in the United States and in Idaho.
Committee members briefly asked questions before the meeting was adjourned. The House Ed Committee will meet on Friday morning to consider introducing two new pieces of legislation. The Senate Education Committee has worked through all of the legislation it has before it and will meet at the call of the chair (an almost-sure sign that final adjournment is a few weeks away).
Ed Funding Bills Printed; Trailer Bills to Follow
For the first time on Thursday, the public got to review the seven bills that make up the FY 17 public school appropriation. The Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee is tentatively scheduled to meet on Friday to approve trailer bills to address policy decisions with financial impact such as K-3 reading intervention. We will report on all of the JFAC decisions in the Friday edition of the Hotline.
In the meantime, here’s a quick rundown of the bills that make up the FY 17 public school appropriation:
HB 617: Division of Administrators. This measure provides a 3% base salary increase for administrators.
HB 618: Division of Teachers. This bill includes increases for the career ladder compensation system (funding in the career ladder also includes Pupil Services Staff). There is $5 million for academic and college and career advisors and student mentors (this law was approved last legislative session but was not funded), and $2.375 million additional funds for teacher professional development, specifically for mentoring programs.
HB 619: Division of Operations. This bill increases operational funding by $27.3 million. This increase will cover an estimated increase in student population resulting in 167 new support units (similar to new classrooms), provides an additional $5 million to local school district technology funding, and provides funding for districts to purchase and operation their instructional management systems. It also provides a 3% increase in funding for classified staff.
HB 620: Division of Children’s Programs. This bill provides $1 million for the continued development of Mastery-Based education pilots and $1 million funds for districts to provide professional development for gifted and talented instructors.
HB 621: Division of Facilities. This portion of the budget addresses the line items directly related to ensuring for the upkeep of buildings and facilities such as the Bond Levy Equalization Program, Charter School Facilities Program, and School Facilities Maintenance Match Program.
HB 622: Division of Education Services for the Deaf and Blind. This bill provides funding for Idaho’s School for the Deaf and Blind, which provides services to students who live on the Gooding, Idaho campus and also to students educated in Idaho traditional and charter public schools.
HB 623: Division of Central Services. This portion of the public school budget identifies those services that the state provides on behalf of school districts through various contracts and vendors.