Unprecedented Session Opens Monday—Ensuring Educator Participation a Top Priority
The 2021 Idaho Legislative Session begins Monday with many familiar issues and concerns, as well as a raft of circumstances we have never seen before. Gov. Brad Little will kick off the session with his State of the State Address Monday at 1:00 p.m. Mountain Time. Live streaming coverage will be available through Idaho in Session and KTVB, among other outlets.
Despite the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis, Idaho has posted a budget surplus estimated at about $600 million. “This financial windfall gives our state’s leaders a great opportunity to really show their commitment to public education in Idaho,” says IEA President Layne McInelly. “The first step should be restoring the education funds that were lost through emergency holdbacks in the current fiscal year. Then the legislature should be proactive with significant investments that ensure resources, access, and opportunity for every student in our state.”
Among the most significant repercussions of the $100 million holdbacks was the freezing of the Career Ladder salary allocation plan for compensating educators, along with the failure to implement the Advanced Professional Educator Pay law approved by the legislature during the 2020 session. That bill was designed to increase veteran teacher pay and help address Idaho’s woeful teacher retention rate. Instead of raises, Idaho educators saw their workloads and stress increase and their health put in jeopardy by the COVID-19 pandemic.
While many states have seen their legislatures delay their sessions or switch to a virtual platform, Idaho is opting to continue with an in-person session. Republican leaders and Capitol staff have made some modifications in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19, including improved HVAC systems and additional video streaming from committee rooms.
Adding to safety concerns about the upcoming session is a rise in threats and alarming behavior from extremist groups. Armed protestors not respecting COVID-19 protocols disrupted the special legislative session last August, causing damage to the Capitol and resulting in arrests. The storming of the U.S. Capitol early this week adds another layer of anxiety about safety for legislators, staff, lobbyists, and citizens.
“The balance of protecting the safety of those at the statehouse and ensuring that all citizens have a direct voice in testifying on proposed legislation needs to be a top priority for our elected officials during this unprecedented session,” says McInelly. “Since public education is such a vital part of the work being done, setting up ways for professional educators to share their expertise and opinions is a vital concern.”
Read our Legislative Preview from the most recent IEA REPORTER, including topics such as vouchers, bond and levy elections impact fees, and students’ mental health, along with the budget surplus.
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