The IEA was first in line this morning at a public hearing held by the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee (JFAC). The hearing was set up to allow members of the public to provide budget writers with comments on a variety of budget-related topics. Education dominated the discussion.
IEA President Penni Cyr led off the hearing by telling the committee that paying teachers and restoring operational funding to schools is not an “either/or” proposition—both need to occur if Idaho students are going to receive an education that will prepare them for college and career opportunities. She also urged the committee to recognize the value of professional development, collaboration and mentoring for teachers, and to fund those important aspects of education appropriately.
Kendra Wisenbaker, President of the Meridian Education Association, focused on the overcrowding of schools and classrooms that is resulting from shortcomings in funding from the state. She pointed out that large class sizes limit the amount of much-needed individual instruction that students receive, and that many students in the West Ada district are eating lunch on the floor because of limited space in the cafeteria. “My colleagues and I see the day-to-day repercussions of Idaho being at the bottom of the barrel with per-pupil spending,” Wisenbaker said.
Education Bills Begin to Stack Up
Even though no career ladder or tiered certification bills have yet been introduced this session, lawmakers have been cranking out a number of other pieces of education-related legislation. Some of them are directly related to the recommendations from the Governor’s Task Force; others are not. Here are just a few of the bills unrelated to the task force recommendations that are currently circulating.
HB 168, approved earlier this week by members of the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee (JFAC), will ensure school districts have access to broadband services for the remainder of this school year. The bill is on the fast track. It passed the House this week; and, the Senate will likely approve it next week. If the governor signs the legislation, districts will have access to funding almost immediately.
Several pieces of legislation printed this week were a result of a compromise between education stakeholders regarding legislation that has been in place for several years. SB 1088 would remove the sunset clause—and make permanent—an Idaho law allowing school boards to increase or decrease the salary or number of contract days for employees, if the board first declares a Reduction in Force (RIF). In addition, the current RIF statute would be beefed up to clarify the conditions under which a school board could declare a RIF.
The IEA and ISBA have come to agreement on the third law that is set to sunset this year. The IEA agreed to neither support nor oppose HB 169, a bill that would remove the sunset clause from Idaho law that ensures master agreements expire on June 30 of each year. In exchange, ISBA agreed to refrain for at least two years from introducing legislation that would allow school boards to impose their “last, best offer” if negotiations were not completed by June 10 of any year.
Testing is proving to be a popular topic this session, too. Several bills have been introduced that would impact the SBAC test. SB 1070, a bill that would allow a student to “opt out” of the state assessment and complete an alternate route, was approved by the Senate Education Committee this week. Rep. Ronald Nate (R-Rexburg) has introduced HB 65 and SB 1085. Both bills eliminate the SBAC; another lawmaker has introduced SCR 106, which in part asks the State Department of Education to find an alternative to the SBAC. Finally, a Magic Valley lawmaker has also introduced SB 1071 that would require every Idaho high school student to pass a civics test in order to graduate.