Session Lingers On, Pared-down Funding Formula Bill Still in Play

by Better Idaho Staff

This article originally appeared on the IDAHO EDUCATION ASSOCIATION website on March 29, 2019.

House Passes Funding Formula Definitions Bill, Legislation Heads to Senate Next Week

While deferring to the expertise of the IEA and other education stakeholder groups and agreeing to slow down the process of rewriting Idaho’s public school funding formula, the House has passed HB 293, which aims to solidify definitions that could be helpful in a new funding mechanism. This bill also increases reporting requirements for schools and districts in an effort to gather data on student groups that might be “weighted” in a new funding formula. In particular, legislators have struggled to identify accurate and adequate definitions for “at-risk” and “economically disadvantaged” students. The bill would also require the legislature’s education committees to review the state’s funding formula at least every five years, starting in 2024.

Even members of the House Education Committee admitted the bill is far from perfect but emphasized a desire to make some legislative headway in a process that has been ongoing for some three years. “Let’s get this train on the tracks,” said Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale. The bill passed along party lines, with Rep. Steve Berch, D-Boise, noting his constituents don’t care as much about the funding mechanism as they do about the amount of funding. “They are sick and tired of local school bonds year after year and it is self-evident we are not adequately funding education,” Berch said.

Rep. Steven Berch

HB 293 does not delve into the weights that have appeared on a series of spreadsheets during the legislative session. That work will be left for an interim committee or next year’s legislature. The IEA and others have urged legislators to take their time in dealing with flaws and unintended consequences inherent in the funding formula changeover. The bill now moves to the Senate side for possible action next week.

Minimum Starting Teacher Salary Legislation Signed Into Law

Idaho Governor Brad Little signed HB 153 into law during a special ceremony on Wednesday, March 20. This legislation establishes a minimum starting teacher salary of $38,500 next year and $40,000 in 2021-22. Local school districts and local education association will continue to bargain for teacher salaries at or above the new minimum levels.

IEA leaders and members joined Gov. Brad Little for the bill-signing ceremony. Among them was Boise teacher Jessie Spurgeon, who had an opportunity to share some thoughts.  “On behalf of early career educators and aspiring educators, I would like to say that we are grateful for this momentous step forward,” she said. “Idaho teachers, students, and communities will be better as a result of this investment in our professional educators.”

Teach for America Bill Passes Both Chambers, Signed by Governor Little

A bill that will allow public dollars to be used as matching funds for alternative teacher preparation programs such as Teach for America has been signed into law by the governor. HB 93 came out of the House Education Committee and was sponsored by Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, and Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale.

The IEA has significant concerns with this legislation. We would prefer to see a more broad-based, comprehensive approach to Idaho’s issues with recruitment of educators. This is just one more quick fix that fails to address the bigger picture.

What Still Has to Happen Before Sine Die?

House Education Committee Chairman Lance Clow indicated his committee had completed their work unless something occurrs to bring them back at the call of the Chair. The Senate Education Committee did not meet today. With the exception of the pending legislation noted above, education-specific bills appear to have all been dealt with.

Still pending are controversial bills related to Medicaid expansion and voter ballot initiatives. Exactly what the resolutions are to those issues, and how long they will take, is uncertain. The governor has five days to veto legislation following its transmission to his office, and the legislature is expected to remain in Boise until that time limit has expired. The 2019 session has already gone past 80 days, surpassing the sessions held the last two years.

Make sure you get all the latest news on legislative and policy developments from the session by subscribing to the Hotline, which is e-mailed every Friday and as developments warrant during the legislative session.

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