IEA Hotline – February 11, 2022

The start of the 2022 Idaho legislative session’s second month saw the signing into law of one of the IEA’s top priorities for the year and the advancement of other education-related measures.  

Gov. Little Signs Educator Health Insurance Bill into Law 

 At a series of “teacher appreciation” events around the state, Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed House Bill 443 into law, paving the way for educators to have quality, affordable health insurance though the same plan offered to all other State of Idaho employees. 

The new law – a top priority of IEA members – is part of a series of legislative acts that will provide additional funding to Idaho school districts allowing them to purchase health insurance for all district employees through the State of Idaho employee health insurance plan. The legislation is seen as a “game-changer” for educators across Idaho, especially those in rural communities where health insurance costs often outstrip modest educator salaries.  

Lawmakers essential to this legislation’s approval include Rep. Rod Furniss (R-Rigby), who was the bill’s primary architect, and co-sponsor Rep. Wendy Horman (R-Idaho Falls). House Speaker Scott Bedke (R-Oakley) is also a long-time supporter of educator insurance and helped shepherd this legislation through the House. On the Senate side, Sen. Jim Woodward (R-Sagle) was the bill’s primary advocate.    

IEA ‘Cautiously Supports’ Empowering Parents Grant Program 

The Idaho Education Association this week added its cautious voice of support to legislation that would provide grants to help Idaho families pay for education expenses. 

The bill, Senate Bill 1255, was introduced Sen. Lori Den Hartog (R-Meridian) and was part of the slate of education proposals announced by Gov. Brad Little during his State of the State address at the top of 2022 legislative session. It was unanimously endorsed by the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday and was approved by the full Senate in a 34-1 vote on Thursday.  

The bill creates the Empowering Parents Grant program and builds on a similar and very popular program initiated by Gov. Little last year. It envisions using $50 million in one-time federal funds to provide grants — up to $1,000 per child or $3,000 per household — to help cover costs for computers, textbooks, physical therapy, or other needs. The grant would be awarded based on need, with money going first to families with an income of under $60,000. 

The IEA fully supports the spoken intent of this bill, which is to provide funding for families to help with supplemental education expenses. However, language in the legislation could create opportunities for public money to go to private or parochial schools. Assurances from the Office of the Governor, the Idaho State Board of Education, and lawmakers involved saying that this legislation will not be used for vouchers and the support of other education stakeholders let the IEA offer the bill its ‘cautious support.”  

Bill Would Create Educator Category in PERSI 

House Bill 555 creates a new category for educators in the Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho (PERSI). 

The bill is an attempt to balance out uneven costs to PERSI caused by “demographics for school employees (that) are significantly different than those of other general members,” according to the legislation’s statement of purpose.  

“School employees start their careers earlier, remain on their career path more consistently and live longer than other general members. As a result, they tend to draw benefits for a longer period of time. The increased length of benefits increases the overall cost.” 

The fix is to create a new cost rate category for school employees. If approved, the PERSI cost rate for the school employees would remain the same, while the cost rate for other state employees would drop.  

Master Educator Premiums Bill Advances 

The House Education Committee endorsed legislation that helps educators who qualified for the Master Educator Premiums but subsequently became administrators, to still receive their earned premium.   

Written by Rep. Lance Clow (R-Twin Falls), the chairman of that same committee, House Bill 533 is waiting for a vote by the full house. If approved, it will then move to the Senate.  

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