Idaho’s higher education budget passed the Senate on Monday, likely preventing tuition hikes and raising employee salaries, and marking the first time the Legislature has approved such a budget from the first shot since 2019.
The debate lasted less than 10 minutes and had a different tone than in the House last week, when the opposition rested on allegations of left-wing indoctrination at Idaho’s four-year colleges and universities.
Only Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking spoke on the bill after the sponsor, Sen. Jim Woodward, R-Sagle, introduced it. Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, reluctantly backed the budget, questioning why a $2.5 million cut made last year in response to the indoctrination allegations was not directly reinstated. She also challenged the use of the Higher Education Stabilization Fund to help cover costs.
“We’re asking our universities to use the rainy day funds at a time when it’s not raining,” Ward-Engelking said.
The Senate passed House Bill 776 on a 30-5 vote — a wider margin than the House’s 46-22 vote. No dissenting senator explained his opposition.
HB 776 is now heading to Governor Brad Little’s office, with the possibility of sending $338 million in general funds to Boise State University, University of Idaho, University of at Idaho State and Lewis-Clark State College.
That would represent a $25 million increase in general fund spending over last year, likely the largest total dollar increase in state history. Combined with federal aid, tuition and other sources, four-year schools would have about $643 million to spend in 2023.
This would help fund 5% wage increases for college and university employees. Few people demanded pay raises, but college presidents said they couldn’t afford the raises without state or student financial aid. The budget framers hope increased state spending will extend the tuition freeze at the state’s four-year institutions.
HB 776 has survived despite the continued entanglement of college and university budgets with conservative concerns about a “social justice agenda” and “critical race theory” in the classroom. Yet a budget for public libraries – which have been dragged into the indoctrination debate this year by a bill that could jail librarians for disseminating “harmful materials” – was ignored by the House on Monday as a new version was written. And talk of indoctrination continues to feature in lawmakers’ discussions of classroom content.
Monday’s silent opposition consisted of Republican Senators Regina Bayer, Meridian; Jim Rice, Caldwell; Christy Zito, Hammett; Steve Vick, Dalton Gardens; and Carl Crabtree, Grangeville.
K-12 Bonuses Head To The Governor’s Office
K-12 school employees can more or less bank on $1,000 bonuses.
The House approved the one-time bonuses on Monday, sending Senate Bill 1404 to Gov. Brad Little’s office.
Little offered the bonuses first — saying the state should show appreciation to educators for their work during the pandemic.
The bonuses will cost around $36.7 million, with the money coming from federal coronavirus aid.
During Monday’s brief debate, Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, questioned one element of the $1.5 million proposal: bonuses for school administrators. Instead of handing out bonuses to administrators, she said, the state should invest its money in schools or teachers.
Rep. Ben Adams, R-Nampa, also argued against bonuses. While he said he appreciates the work of teachers during the pandemic, he said federal aid should instead be used to invest in the future.
The bonuses were adopted by 45 votes to 24.
JFAC reduces library budget
Budget drafters took $307,000 from the Idaho Library Commission budget on Monday.
And they want library officials to make sure K-12 students aren’t exposed to obscene material.
The joint finance and appropriations committee approved a rewritten budget for libraries, after abruptly withdrawing the first version of the House budget on Friday.
JFAC made two changes:
The committee zeroed out a $307,000 line item for K-12 e-books and audio titles — which Little had requested.
The committee asked the Library Board to ensure that K-12 students cannot access obscene material and to ensure that library technology projects comply with federal and state laws on internet security.
The budget now stands at $4.5 million from the state’s general fund, an increase of 5%. It also includes $4.75 million in federal funds for technology projects and digital access.
The library budget must pass through both chambers.
Senate Supports Rewriting Standards, Dyslexia Supports
After passing the higher education budget, the Senate crafted a host of other education measures, sending them to Little’s desk.
Rewriting of standards. House Bill 716 replacing existing state academic content standards for English, math, and science, with new standards passed 34-1.
This bill is an attempt to move Idaho standards — goalposts for what students should learn at certain grade levels — away from national standards, including the Common Core.
Sen. Jim Woodward, R-Sagle, warned of the costs of doing so, but backed the bill because the price of adopting new standards and bringing them into line with the United Nations Standards Achievement Test ‘Idaho remains unknown.
HB 716 complements a resolution already passed by the House and Senate, which removes Idaho’s existing math, science, and English standards from the books.
Only Sen. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, opposed the bill.
Dyslexia takes over. A compromise dyslexia bill, intended to increase dyslexia screenings for students and provide information to educators on how to support students, passed the Senate unanimously.
Modification of the scholarship. House Bill 505 would remove a state scholarship requirement, which requires students eligible for the post-secondary scholarship to earn an equivalent, merit-based scholarship from a company or institution. an industry. Under the bill, student matching scholarships would not have to be merit-based.
WWAMI resolution. A non-binding resolution addressing the partnership between the medical schools of Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho would urge the state to seek 10 additional seats from WWAMI, in addition to the 40 seats currently paid for by Idaho.
Recall proposal of the trustee killed
A bill that would allow voters to replace recalled school trustees is now dead.
A divided Senate State Affairs Committee killed House Bill 671 with a voice vote Monday morning. HB 671 would have required an election if a director had been recalled or resigned under threat of recall. Currently, serving school board members appoint alternates in both situations.
Co-sponsor Rep. Barbara Ehardt said the bill seeks to bind communities together after “dividing” recall campaigns.
“It’s a way to heal and let people decide,” Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls.
The bill was stalled after senators raised several concerns:
- That individuals wishing to run for a school board be able to file a recall application against an incumbent, expel the incumbent, and run for office sooner than they otherwise would have been able to. The bill would allow voters to choose a replacement trustee on one of the state’s four regular election dates in March, May, August or November.
- That the bill would cede the authority of the school board if too many trustees resigned or were removed, making it impossible for the board to have a quorum. In this case, local county commissioners would appoint enough trustees to form a quorum — that is, three of the five trustees of most Idaho school boards — until an election can be held. take place. Opposing senators feared that these rare instances would defeat the sponsors’ intent to give more influence to local voters.
The bill split the GOP leadership in the Senate. Senate Pro Tem Speaker Chuck Winder, Boise, and Majority Leader Kelly Anthon, Burley, backed the bill. Deputy Majority Leader Abby Lee, Fruitland, sided with committee Democrats and other opponents during the debate.
House kills career exploration course
A divided House rejected a bill requiring an eighth grade career exploration course.
No one has argued against this primary objective of Senate Bill 1374. But opponents didn’t like the fact that the bill could allow school districts to drop a health course to make room in the schedule for career exploration.
“We need to talk about hygiene,” said Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, a certified health instructor.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, said the language was designed to give schools options – but said he would be ‘shocked’ if schools decided to get rid of the college health classes.
“We have to trust local school boards,” said Kerby, a retired school principal.
The House killed the bill on a vote of 24-45. The bill passed the Senate unanimously on March 10.
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