It was a day of education housekeeping at the Idaho Legislature as tweaks to the 2011 education reform laws continue to trickle through the system.
In the House Education Committee, members voted to advance a new version of yesterday’s H671, a bill that essentially is a sop to the Washington-based Northwest Professional Educators to meet its demand that it be included on a list of providers of liability insurance to teachers. Roger Brown of Gov. Butch Otter’s office, making his first appearance in the committee this session, admitted that the liability insurance notification provision of last year’s Senate Bill 1108 was badly written and needed some changes to make it less of a burden on school districts.
In the face of not one but two days of vitriolic testimony from NWPE’s Cindy Omlin, Bert Marley of the Idaho Education Association contended that the bill does not lessen that bureaucratic burden and in fact muddies the issue since associations do not themselves sell liability insurance. Marley also related how becoming an IEA member while a teacher in Marsh Valley was one of the best professional and personal decisions he’d ever made. “For 120 years, the IEA has been the association of choice for educators due to superior benefits,” he added.
As he did in floor debate last year, Rep. Brian Cronin (D-Boise) said he saw no other reason for the bill than to punish the IEA. When Chairman Bob Nonini (R-Coeur d’Alene) asked whether Omlin’s testimony recounting a handful of years-old perceived slights over NWPE access to teachers gave him pause, Cronin said, “No, it doesn’t. The marketplace of ideas is brutally competitive.” (In an earlier question, Cronin elicited from Omlin that NWPE has only 1,100 members in three states.)
It’s interesting to note that although Omlin insists hers is a professional rather than a political organization, she sent an email yesterday asking members to email the House Education Committee, then sent another one reminding members to use their home email addresses, not school emails, when contacting lawmakers.
In other news today:
The House passed Senate Bills 1327, 1328, and 1329, the three pieces of legislation that make minor changes to the education reform bills passed last year. The IEA opposes these as we opposed the original reforms. If Idahoans vote NO on Propositions 1, 2, and 3 this November 6, these housekeeping bills will be overturned as well.
The Senate passed an amended version of H564, the bill from Rep. JoAn Wood (R-Rigby) that would make major changes to a bill passed last just year dealing with employee records and Professional Standards Commission investigations. It was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The IEA debated against earlier versions of this bill, but over the course of the last few days, the IEA was able to negotiate some compromise language with the bill sponsors that clarifies a former employee will be provided any information from other investigative files, and that newly hired employees will receive full salary and benefits while awaiting a review of their personnel files.
The Senate also passed H603, which restores some funding protection that school districts lost in the 2011 reforms. Under the bill, districts would collectively self-insure to protect themselves from steep funding drops due to enrollment declines from one year to the next. The bill sets a 97 percent floor for year-to-year Average Daily Attendance funding losses. Senators also passed H626, which will set up a clearinghouse of ratings for online classes.