Week Nine of the legislative session provides an excellent opportunity to review the status of education-related legislation.
At the start of the session, Governor Otter declared "my highest priority remains public schools." He called for a 2.9% overall funding increase with zero invested toward increased pay for teachers.
On Monday, legislative budget writers approved a 5.1% increase for FY2015 which covers the 2014-15 school year. My colleague Roy Lacey of Pocatello sponsored a successful motion in the Joint Finance and Appropriation Committee (JFAC) to increase the salary-based apportionment by 1.6% ($11.8 million). This includes a 1% increase in the base salary and an increase in the minimum teacher salary from $31k to $31,750, bringing the salary minimum back to FY2009 levels. JFAC also approved nearly $16 million for leadership awards as defined in H504 which has already passed both chambers.
The percentage of the state's budget allocated for education has steadily decreased over the past five years at a time when 14,000 new students have entered Idaho's K-12 education system. The 31-member Task Force for Improving Education commissioned by Governor Otter met over the interim and came up with 20 recommendations for improving K-12 education in Idaho. Recommendation 12 called for the phased implementation of a teacher compensation Career Ladder that combines "competitive salaries with incentives, rewards and accountability...tied to a revised system of state licensure." Other than H504, the Career Ladder, which would boost teacher compensation - and morale - has not been given consideration during this legislative session. Here is a list of bills that have passed or are being considered which would partially implement some of the 20 task force recommendations: H521, H557, S1233, S1326.
Education measures being considered, that are not supported by education stakeholders include H507 which provides up to $10 million in tax credits for individuals and corporations making donations that fund scholarships for private schools. H556 would impact educator evaluations contrary to the recommendations of the task force as outlined in this piece by Idaho Education News. H567 also fails to have the support of education stakeholders who contend it is an unnecessary measure regarding the role of parental rights in education.
S1254, the Guns on Campus bill, passed the House yesterday on a vote of 50-19 and it is unlikely that Governor Otter will veto this dangerous bill. The move is opposed by the State Board of Education, the presidents of every college/university in the state and the Chiefs of Police in Boise and Moscow where our two largest universities reside. This week, the Idaho Sheriff's Association announced support for the measure. Of Idaho's 44 sheriffs, 22 are in favor, 16 opposed and 6 didn't respond to the survey. I will be on NBC's "The Today Show" on Monday during the 8:00 a.m. hour discussing this issue which got a lot of national attention after the New York Times printed a satire by BSU biology professor Dr. Greg Hampikian entitled "When May I Shoot a Student?"
Appropriation bills are flying out of JFAC. Among them is the appropriation to the Department of Administration for the Idaho Education Network for fiscal year 2014. As you may remember from my newsletters from weeks 5 and 6, Administration Director Teresa Luna requested an additional $17 million to cover broadband delivery through mid-2015. With H550, which passed the Senate unanimously, JFAC approved $6.6 million for 2014.
JFAC also issued intent language regarding Schoolnet that allows the local districts to select their own provider as long as it interfaces effectively with the Idaho System for Educational Excellence (ISEE).
Unrelated to education but by way of follow-up to last week, S1345 continues to be debated by both sides outside of the Senate Resources & Environment Committee, so the bill is holding its place in the committee for the moment.
Water is released from a reservoir for flood control (generally by a governmental entity such as the Army Corps of Engineers or Bureau of Reclamation) to make room for spring run-off. Storage rights holders are not able to use released flood control water for beneficial use. Instead, the water is used for a public purposes. Historically, when the reservoir refills, storage rights holders use the water for irrigation, municipal and industrial uses.
The Bureau of Reclamation controls the water in Palisades Reservoir which impacts all of southern and eastern Idaho. S1345 provides that: 1) water can be released for public health and safety reasons without a water right and, 2) releases for flood control are not water that counts towards a storage right because the water cannot be put to beneficial use. However, S1345 could give the Bureau more power to release water without state oversight. In a state that prides itself on state sovereignty, are we prepared to potentially hand more decision making to this federal agency? Water negotiations are complex. I appreciate the many individuals who continue to educate me about this precious resource and its uses in Idaho.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Ellis Gooch, Board Chair for American Falls Reservoir District #2. His district is in support of S1345. I want to be sure to make the correction.
It remains my honor to serve District 26 and I welcome your input on issues of importance to you by phone (208-332-1353) or email (email@example.com).