WEEK SIX, February 16-20, 2015
The big story of the week came yesterday when Idaho Education News reported that CenturyLink will not pull the plug on the Idaho Education Network (IEN) this Sunday as threatened. However, in an email sent to school districts, a manager with broadband contractor Education Networks of America (ENA) still indicated the possibility of cutting services to any district that hasn't signed a short-term contract with ENA by next Friday. I sent an email this week to all superintendents within District 26 outlining the process for directly applying for Federal e-rate funds before the March 26th deadline.
On Tuesday, JFAC interrupted their agenda to review the broadband crisis and from that was born H168. This appropriation would shore up broadband delivery through the current school year with an infusion of $3.64 million for advances or reimbursements to local districts who manage to secure their own broadband services. The funds would be distributed by the Superintendent of Public Instruction rather than through the Department of Administration which instead would see a FY15 appropriation reduction of $5 million, previously earmarked for IEN. The House of Representatives suspended rules in order to quickly pass the legislation (68-1) and similar action is expected in the Senate on Monday.
While we are still awaiting legislation to address teacher pay (and all the other bills required to implement any of the 20 recommendations of the education task force), Senate Education Chairman Dean Mortimer has promised a bill in the coming week which is currently being crafted with input from education stakeholders. Chairman Mortimer, also a member of JFAC, indicated support for the Governor's recommendation for a 7.4% increase to the education budget. However, recent estimates reveal a greater-than-budgeted increase in enrollment which could require an additional $7 million in funding.
On Monday, the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee (JLOC) met again to receive the Office of Performance Evaluations (OPE) report on the K-12 Longitudinal Data System (ISEE)
developed by the State Department of Education. Compliance with ISEE impacts school funding so it was disheartening as a JLOC member to hear that the previous failures in student performance data governance were repeated by the SDE. The study, requested by the legislature after school administrators reported challenges meeting excessive data collection mandates, suggests that stakeholder needs and capacities were not properly solicited or considered despite the same rebuke of the prior system in a 2006 OPE report.
This coming Monday, the Senate will be voting on S1044 which seeks to prohibit governmental entities, including cities and counties, from using eminent domain to condemn property for conversion to a greenbelt, bike path, or trail. Such features are important components of local transportation infrastructure, providing safe travel for children and commuters as well as providing recreational opportunities for residents and tourists alike. Local government officials have a deep respect and appreciation for private property rights and rarely use constitutionally granted condemnation authority unless it serves a public good. I oppose this legislation and, based on the emails received, there is nearly unanimous opposition from representatives of Idaho's cities and counties.
I want to pass along information regarding AARP's free tax preparation service for low-to moderate-income taxpayers, especially those 60 and older. You do not need to be a member of AARP or a retiree to use this service and all Tax-Aide volunteers are certified by the IRS. To find the closest AARP Idaho Tax-Aide location, visit their website or call (888) 227-7669.
Finally, and with a heavy heart, I must report that Senator Elliot Werk resigned this past week in order to fulfill his appointment by Governor Otter to the Idaho State Tax Commission. He served with tremendous distinction in the Senate for over 12 years, including as Assistant Minority Leader alongside me for the past two. It is impossible to overestimate Elliot's contribution to the Senate. He has been an amazing and supportive mentor for me personally and a fierce defender of democratic principles on behalf of all the citizens of Idaho. We will miss him terribly but applaud his ongoing commitment to public office.
As a result of this departure, Senator Cherie Buckner-Webb was named Assistant Minority Leader and Senator Grant Burgoyne was named Minority Caucus Chairman. I am honored to work with all of our very talented Democratic colleagues in the Senate and appreciate the willingness of Cherie and Grant to join me in leadership. We will have only one Democrat serving on three Senate committees until a replacement is appointed for District 17 but I am happy to have Cherie join me on the State Affairs committee which will soon be confronting legislation ranging from reproductive health to the minimum wage.
Thanks to all who showed up for our D-26 Town Hall meeting in Fairfield last Friday. It was a busy night and I'm grateful for those who made the effort to meet with their representatives in the Legislature. As always, feel free to contact me by phone (208-332-1353) or email (email@example.com).