A bill that would allow families to spend up to $5,950 in public funds on their child’s tuition and private tuition has attracted too many public witnesses to fit into a two-hour window.
The House Education Committee hearing on House Bill 669 drew a long list of opponents from public education groups and agencies on Monday. Representatives from the Idaho School Boards Association, the Idaho Association of School Administrators, the Idaho Education Association and the State Department of Education were among those arguing that the college savings account bill would divert tax dollars from public education and put it into schools that aren’t accountable to the state – in their finances, curriculum, or learning outcomes.
“Whether you call it a savings account or a voucher, the results are the same. You take away the state’s ability to regulate (and) account for public funds and, more importantly, you have no control over the curriculum being taught,” said IASA Executive Director Andy Grover.
A coalition including private school parents, state superintendent nominee Branden Durst and a representative from pro-school national choice group EdChoice came out in force for the bill, arguing that public schools should be compete with private schools for state funding, and that parents should be able to spend public funds on schools that conform to their religious beliefs.
“This discussion is about money and who it belongs to. The alphabet soup friends who sit behind me believe it belongs to them,” Durst said, referring to education groups. don’t think they’re right. I think it’s up to the families.
Ryan Spoon, who served on Lt. Governor Janice McGeachin’s anti-criticism race theory task force over the summer, has argued for private competition in education.
“Any organization that functions as a legalized monopoly operates in an unhealthy state. This is both harmful to himself and to those he serves,” Spoon said.
Spoon led the task force’s passage of a pro-school choice recommendation to the Legislative Assembly, which included an endorsement of college savings accounts.
While most of the testimony focused on whether the state should fund instruction in private schools, IEA Executive Director Paul Stark raised another concern. He said the bill was drafted so that public schools would still be required to provide special education aids to students who are not enrolled in public schools, but the schools would not be compensated. Stark also said there was “a real problem of separation of church and state” with the bill since most private schools in Idaho are religious.
Reps. Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, and Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, introduced the bill earlier this month, dubbing the proposed accounts the “Hope and Opportunity Scholarship Program.”
In addition to private school fees, families could use their college savings accounts for a variety of education-related expenses, ranging from tutoring to laptops.
To be eligible for the Hope and Opportunity Scholarship, families would need to earn less than 250% of the income cap for free and reduced lunch, a common measure of student poverty. That would make more than 65% of Idaho families eligible, EdChoice estimates.
Although House Education devoted its full two-hour meeting to hearing public testimony, not everyone who signed up to speak on the bill had a chance, R-Twin Falls Chairman Lance Clow said. They will be able to submit written comments to the committee, but no more live testimony will be collected, Clow said.
The committee now plans to debate the bill at an upcoming meeting, which could culminate in a vote to send the bill to the House floor.
Curriculum Adoption Committee Bill Passes House
A divided house passed a bill that would require school districts to set up curriculum adoption committees.
The 12-member committees should consist of six parents, three teachers, one administrator, one school board member and one community member. They would play a strictly advisory role and school boards would continue to have the final say on the curriculum.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, said on the House floor. “There are a lot of concerns about the curriculum in our schools in terms of people who may want to monitor (critical race theory) or materials they find objectionable.”
Although schools have already set up similar committees, some school officials have opposed the bill in committee, arguing that commissioning a 12-member volunteer panel may prove too difficult for districts. rural.
“I just think we’ve overstepped our bounds yet again by requiring 12 people to sit on this committee,” Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, said.
House Bill 650 passed 45-23.
Levy Transparency Bill Passes House
A bill that would call for greater transparency in elections and the spending of supplementary school levies passed the House without debate.
House Bill 653 would like:
- Require school districts to disclose on the ballot how they will spend extra levy money when asking voters for property taxes.
- Spend dollars on planned expenses, within 10% of the originally budgeted amount.
- Publish additional direct debit expenditure online annually
Only Rep. Steve Berch, D-Boise, voted against the bill. He is now heading to the Senate for a possible committee hearing.
Senate Passes Mid-Year Budget Bill K-12
A mid-year spending bill is headed to Governor Brad Little’s office.
The most expensive item in House Bill 634 is $74 million in federal funds for school nutrition programs — covering the increased cost of free lunch programs and increased costs due to supply chain issues. HB 634 is also investing an additional $25.6 million to cover rising teacher salary career ladder costs and $1.6 million to cover enrollment growth at the Idaho Digital Learning Academy.
The money for the career ladder and the IDLA would come from general state funds.
The budget passed 32-1, with only Sen. Christy Zito, R-Hammett, in opposition.
On Monday morning, the Senate also unanimously passed two amendments to the Armed Forces and State Public Safety Scholarship:
House Bill 461 would make the scholarship available to the children and spouses of Idahoans who died during military training. House Bill 506 provides a technical solution to how the state defines disabled veterans.
These two bills also go to Little’s office.
‘Vaccine passport’ ban heads to House floor
A rewritten bill banning so-called “vaccination passports” is heading for the House floor.
Under the new legislation, no one would be required to produce proof of a vaccine or a negative COVID-19 test to receive state services, work for a state agency, or enter a place. owned by the state, with a few exceptions.
The bill applies to state government and state agencies, including colleges and universities. This does not apply to school district K-12 vaccination requirements.
The new bill is a reboot of House Bill 604, a vaccine passport ban introduced earlier this month. Among the revisions: The new bill would only apply to the coronavirus, not future illnesses.
The House State Affairs Committee took the unusual step Monday of killing HB 604 and sending Meridian Republican Rep. Jason Monks’ new bill straight to the House floor. The bill, which does not yet have a number, could get a vote in the House later this week.
Senate Ed passes counselor bill and career ladder adjustment
The Senate Education Committee quickly approved a pair of bills that passed the House unanimously on Thursday:
House Bill 654 would allow licensed professional counselors and licensed clinical professional counselors to work as school counsellors. Several people have spoken out in favor of the bill, including Bonneville School District Superintendent Scott Woolstenhulme, who said schools are facing bigger and more difficult student mental health issues. The new advisers will “save the lives of our students”, he said.
House Bill 656 would clarify the salary career ladder for teachers in Idaho. The bill is designed to make it easier for schools to place new teachers on the pay scale, namely those leaving the state, a parochial school or an administrative position. “I see this as an equity bill,” said Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, a co-sponsor.
With committee votes, both bills could be introduced in the Senate later this week.
Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert contributed to this report.
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