Legislature Back from Recess Next Week; Budget and Early Childhood Bills Still in Flux
Following a recess necessitated by COVID-19 spread among its members, the Idaho legislature will gavel back in this Tuesday, April 6. Approving budgets for public education is a constitutional mandate, while the legislature also seems to have unfinished business relating to early childhood education. Exactly how much they choose to tackle remains to be seen. Will there be new legislation proposed or will they try to wrap up quickly as many of them head home to declare their candidacies for the next election cycle?
K-12 Budgets Still Need to Be Approved in Both Chambers
The legislature recessed without approving the K-12 budgets for the next fiscal year. The Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee (JFAC) has passed a budget that would increase the state’s investment by only 3.7%, a lackluster effort considering Idaho’s thriving economy and last place standing nationally in per-student funding. Idaho Education News published a story the details the proposed budget.
IEA President Layne McInelly issued a statement in response to the JFAC budget, part of which reads:
One of the top priorities of IEA members has been a reversal and restoration of the five percent holdback, as well as confirming a commitment to increasing compensation for veteran teachers through the Advanced Professional Educator rung of the Career Ladder. We appreciate that legislators on JFAC recognized the importance of taking that step.
However, we are disappointed the committee did not take the next step and propose a substantive increase in discretionary funding. Left behind in this budget are classified staff-the custodial, nutrition, and transportation workers; our valuable paraeducators, speech pathologists, and substitute teachers. These dedicated workers are an invaluable part of the education team that helps students learn and grow. Idaho schools do not have nearly enough of these crucial personnel groups, partly because they are not allocated a living wage.
Tax Cuts or Investing in Education? A Key Question for Legislators
Also still on the table as the legislature comes back into session is HB 332, which would create another massive round of tax cuts for the wealthy, rather than using some of Idaho’s $600 million surplus to benefit students and public schools. This bill passed the House on a 58-12 vote but has not yet been taken up by the Senate.
Especially with the next election cycle drawing near, legislators will be forced to go on the record about their priorities. Do they favor more tax cuts for the most affluent Idahoans, or investments in our schools, students, and working families? We will be watching to see which side they come down on.
Pre-K and Full-day Kindergarten Opportunities Could Move Forward
The legislature can also advance measures that would create more opportunities for early childhood education in Idaho, which is historically among the worst states in that category.
On the full-day Kindergarten front, HB 331 was introduced in the House Education Committee but later pulled. Language in the original bill indicated it would “provide funding for optional full-day kindergarten, providing local districts and charter schools with more flexibility to pay for optional full-day kindergarten without relying on student tuition and supplemental levies”. New legislation will be required to move full-day Kindergarten forward, but there is cautious optimism around that possibility.
Earlier in the session, the House voted against accepting federal funds that would have expanded pre-K opportunities in the state. Several legislators came under criticism for their comments during public testimony, and as the Bonner County Daily Bee reported, bill sponsor Paul Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene is optimistic that accessing those federal grants can still happen before the end of the session. Legislation that would revisit this issue was introduced in JFAC but has yet to receive a bill number.
“Early childhood education is the foundation for success as students move through their academic careers,” says IEA President Layne McInelly. “These are great opportunities for the legislature to do right by our children and young families.”
For a recap of what happened right before the legislature recessed, when several potentially damaging bills were held in committee or sent to the amending order, read our most recent IEA Hotline.
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