Penni Cyr, President of the Idaho Education Association, was among those who addressed the Senate Education Committee Monday regarding legislation that would set up a line item in the education budget to fund rising health insurance costs for K-12 personnel. SB 1096, sponsored by Senate Ed Chair Dean Mortimer (R-Idaho Falls), would add $20,260 million to the K-12 budget for 2017-18 to help districts cover increases in health insurance. It would also tie insurance allocations for educators proportionally to allocations for state employees. The fiscal impact for this legislation will vary depending upon the costs of the state employee health insurance plan. The amount that is recommended this year for Full Time Personnel (FTP) is $860. The bill was discussed in committee, but was not voted upon and is currently being held at the discretion of the Chair.
“Conversations with our teacher-members and district officials tell us that it is important to them to leave most decisions at the local level where communities can control both funding and policies that affect how their schools operate,” said Cyr. “Districts need the flexibility to allocate resources where they are needed, and statutory restrictions take away local control.”
There is strong consensus that steps need to be taken to address rising health care costs, which represent a significant portion of local district education budgets, but differing views on the best way to do so. Governor Otter’s budget proposal suggests a one-year line item, while Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra prefers putting money into discretionary funds to give districts more flexibility in how they allocate resources. Further complicating matters is the fact that a school funding formula committee is working on a long-term plan for restructuring how Idaho funds public education. The IEA believes that adding a one-year line item for insurance would hamper the ability of the committee to have the time and autonomy they need to find good solutions. At least in the short-term, the IEA would like to see the money being targeted for a line item be put into discretionary funding to give districts the flexibility they need.
Senate Ed Approves Bill to Add Master Teacher Premiums for Pupil Services Staff
The Senate Education Committee sent SB 1059 to the floor with a “do-pass” recommendation, despite larger concerns about the overall cost of the Master Teacher Premium program. This bill makes 1,021 pupil services staff (counselors, nurses, etc.) eligible for Master Teacher Premiums, beginning in 2019-20. Sen. Steven Thayn (R-Emmett) continued to express grave concerns about the overall cost of the Master Teacher Premiums and the percentage of teachers who will receive the. Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking countered by reminding the committee that the Master Teacher Premiums were established in lieu of meeting the $60,000 salary allocation for veteran teachers that had been recommended by the Governor’s Task Force on Improving Education.
School Board Trustees in Boise for Legislative Session
A large group of local school board members from around the state was on hand at the Senate Education Committee meeting as part of their regularly-scheduled annual visit to the Capitol. The group held a kickoff meeting Monday morning, and will be meeting with legislators over the next couple of days to discuss a variety of public education issues. The Idaho School Boards Association has stated that funding year three of the Career Ladder is their top priority for this session, followed by increased operational/discretionary funding with fewer line items.