Not much that helps teachers and students is coming out of the House Education committee this year thus far. Here’s just a sampling:
In-person learning without protecting the health and safety of teachers and staff (H175 –returned to the sponsor for further edit). This bill attempts to placate the public’s desire to see their children back in the classroom without addressing the reason why children aren’t in classrooms. I want children back in school and I don’t know a single parent who doesn’t want the same. But this poorly-worded bill appears to create a new “student right” for in-person learning regardless of exigent circumstances, be it snow days, four-day school weeks or a future pandemic that is much more deadly than COVID. This is irresponsible – especially when the legislature took no action to open schools safely (lower class sizes, increased sanitation, etc.). I do not support this feel-good bill that does nothing to address the underlying challenge of safely conducting in-person learning during a health crisis.
Spend public taxpayer dollars to help pay private and religious school tuition costs (H215 – to be debated in committee). This bill extends the Strong Student grant program to include private and religious schools by giving an estimated 800 students $6,041 each in state taxpayer dollars to pay for non-public school education expenses. I voted against introducing this bill which is really a voucher bill in disguise. We should not be giving your taxpayer dollars to private schools while the legislature forces property tax increases to cover the cost of public schools.
Require opt-in/opt-out for higher education student fees (H116 – held in committee). This bill is a misdirected and potentially unworkable solution to a more fundamental problem – the legislature’s continuous underfunding of higher education. Once upon a time, the legislature funded over 50% of the state’s higher education costs at its colleges and universities. Today it barely funds 20% of that cost. This has resulted in higher tuitions along with new and higher student fees to cover the shortfall created by the legislature. This bill makes the situation even worse. It could potentially remove up to $20 million from higher education – which would likely result in even higher tuition costs. I voted against introducing this bill, which is currently under further review by the State Board of Education.
Create a committee to review progress on literacy in public schools (H69 – updated version to be debated in committee). This misnamed “streamline education” bill is flawed for several reasons. It starts from the premise that schools need to justify the money they’ve already received without considering if literacy efforts were adequately funded to begin with. If it takes 100 gallons of gas to drive from Point A to Point B but you are only given 20 gallons of gas, you can’t legitimately criticize the driver for not arriving at their destination. Furthermore, this bill tells the committee how to measure success instead of giving it the freedom to develop those metrics. I voted against introducing this bill, which is another attempt by the legislature to micro-manage Idaho’s public education system which they have underfunded for years, especially during a time of rapid growth in school enrollment.
Eliminate requiring collective bargaining for teacher pay (H174 – to be debated in committee). This bill attempts to help cash-strapped school districts meet legislature-created budgetary constraints by making it easier for them to keep teacher salaries low. It changes only one word: school districts may – instead of shall – engage in collective bargaining with teachers. I asked the sponsor of the bill if she could name one school district in Idaho that is currently paying teachers more than they deserve due to collective bargaining. She couldn’t. I voted against introducing this awful “take it or leave it” bill that will result in lower teacher salaries at a time when their salaries are already uncompetitive.
Strip public health districts from having any say in closing schools and universities (H67 and H68 – passed the House, in the Senate). These two bills are based on the falsehood that experts on health district boards are shutting down schools due to COVID. The truth is that the State Board of Education shut down schools last March and since then, health districts have only issued advisories. It was also argued that only elected officials should decide to shut down schools and not appointed “experts” on the health boards. The truth is that two-thirds of all health district board members are elected (mostly county commissioners), ranging from 3 out of 7, to 7 out of 9 board members. Each board has one medical expert, but it takes a majority of board members to shut down schools – so it is impossible for the one appointed “expert” to make that decision. I voted against this deliberately deceptive bill that undermines public health districts, which deal with a lot more than just COVID.
Eliminate August elections (H106 – passed the House, in the Senate). A few years ago, the legislature consolidated elections in Idaho to occur four times a year: March, May, August and November. This bill removes August from the election calendar. This hurts education because the August election date is sometimes used for school bonds and levies. Proponents of this bill claim that school districts abuse this by re-running bonds and levies in August that failed in March. This is what the West Ada School District did last year – and some people were upset about it (the bond failed in March and passed in August). This bill insults voters by saying they are not smart enough to reconsider an earlier decision, especially when there is a better understanding of the consequences of that earlier decision.
But this bill belies a more insidious move afoot: to starve public education of the money it needs to function adequately. It is the action of a legislature that views education as an expense to be minimized instead of an investment in our children’s future. School districts don’t want to continually float bonds, but the legislature’s constant underfunding of education has turned bonds from being truly supplemental, into a nearly annual necessity to cover ongoing operational costs (teacher salaries, supplies, etc.). Now the legislature wants to tighten the fiscal noose further by reducing the options school districts have to cover the funding gap created by the legislature.
My qualitative measure for determining if education is adequately being funded is that no school district in Idaho should have to float a bond or levy more than once every 5-7 years. I believe people should have more opportunities to voice their opinion, not fewer. I voted against this destructive, voter and education suppression bill.
Allow the state to invest certain taxpayer dollars in the purchase of gold and silver (H7 – passed the House, in the Senate). I voted against this frivolous bill that would be a poor investment of taxpayer dollars and benefit a small group of outside interests that supported this bill.
Prohibit certain reporting requirements for private foundations and charitable trusts (H41 – passed the House, in the Senate). If the state is going to grant an organization the privilege of being tax exempt, it is entitled to hold that organization to reasonable reporting standards that may go beyond those of other entities – especially given the negative consequences that can come with abusing a tax exempt privilege. I was one of two people in the House who voted against this bill.
Limit the Governor’s abilities in regard to declaring a disaster emergency (H135 – passed the House, in the Senate). This bill is yet another effort by House leadership to placate those upset with the Governor’s actions in response to the COVID pandemic. Some of this bill’s flaws include limiting a disaster declaration by the Governor to 60 days, which is irresponsible since it’s impossible to predict the nature and duration of an unknown future disaster. It is also rather absurd to expect 105 legislators with a wide range of differing opinions to take any type of decisive, effective and immediate action. This is exacerbated by some legislators who reject science-based decision making. I voted against this bill for these and other reasons.
Eliminate the requirement for public notices to be published in newspapers (H53 – failed on the House floor). Many citizens do not use computers and many websites are not easy to navigate, especially when searching for obscure legal documents. This bill would have limited the ability of these citizens to receive important legal notifications by allowing government entities to not publish them in local newspapers. I voted with the majority against this anti-transparency bill.
Certain streets and statues cannot be renamed or moved without legislature approval (H90 – passed the House, in the Senate). This bill is a solution to a problem that hasn’t existed in the 130 year history of the state. If you believe in the Republican Party principle – as I do – that government is best when it is closest to the people, then you’ll understand why I voted against this piece of legislation.