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Educational institutions are preparing for the Legislative Council

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BOISE (IdahoEdNews.org) — The Idaho Association of School Administrators anticipates several legislative “hot topics” at its next session.

IASA executive director Andy Grover discussed potential legislation at the organization’s annual meeting on Wednesday before a crowd of at least 100 people. Representatives from the Idaho Board of Education and the State Board of Education were also present.

IASA has not yet voted on the direction of legislation, but will take Wednesday’s feedback into account when it does so later this year.

This is what IASA has on its radar.

insurance coverage

Despite increased funding designed to help schools transition employees to state insurance plans, many school districts still cannot afford to make the switch. State plans offer improved benefits at lower premiums.

In March, Gov. Brad Little signed a bill allocating an additional $105 million to cover the annual cost of enrolling school workers in the state’s plan. The bill also included his one-time increase of $75.5 million to cover initial costs.

But schools still need $80 million to $85 million in ongoing funding to make the switch, according to IASA.

“Right now, many of our school districts still don’t get it,” says Grover.

On the other hand, part of the state discretionary fund goes to insurance, about $13,300 per classroom unit. If the district does not use some or all of this money for insurance, the remainder can be directed to other programs. However, there are concerns that Congress may limit this flexibility in 2023.

labor and wages

Increased wages for civil servants (non-teacher employees who do not require State Department qualifications) are a major concern.

Classified staff, from paraprofessionals to bus drivers to cafeteria workers, are essential to schools, Glover said. But just weeks before the start of the new school year, school districts are still facing hiring shortages, including a shortage of classified staff.

Most school districts pay classified staff at least $12 an hour, an increase from the previous year. But Glover says wages aren’t competitive given that school districts in neighboring states pay at least $15 an hour.

Districts received a 7% increase last year to help fund classified staff, compared to about 2% last year. However, according to Quimperry, ISBA’s head of policy and government affairs, the historic rise means that in many districts, an employee’s hourly wage has risen by about 40 cents per hour.

“You have to be very sandy to not know it’s a problem,” Perry said.

Federal funding and regulation

IASA also expressed concern that lawmakers could refuse federal funding outright in exchange for exemption from federal law. The organization is unsure if the effort will go forward, but has advised administrators to prepare conversations with lawmakers.

Perry said the push would likely come in light of the Title IX changes proposed by the Biden administration. will be

“I think that discussion is likely to come,” Perry said. I hope people realize that it’s not something they do.”

As one attendee pointed out, refusing federal funding is nothing new to Congress. In March 2021, lawmakers rejected a bill that would allow the State Department to access her nearly $6 million in federal grants for Pre-K. Some legislators were concerned that the funds would fund social justice indoctrination in preschool.

The state raises approximately $250 million annually for federal education spending.

One-time fundraising

Between the COVID Emergency Relief Fund and Idaho’s budget overrun, the district is receiving a one-time influx of funds. However, school leaders are hesitant to use the money for long-term projects because the money is unreliable.

Grover led a brainstorming session on Wednesday, inviting administrators to discuss how the one-time funds will be used. Here are their ideas:

  • Covers software license start-up costs.
  • Purchase curricula, from hardcover books to online curricula. According to one administrator, it will cost him over $1 million for a medium-sized district to adopt the new curriculum.
  • Purchasing a new bus or other student transport.
  • Hire a consultant to perform a thorough inspection of the entire facility. The Performance and Evaluation Bureau released a study in January that estimated Idaho schools were at least $1 billion behind him in school facilities, but said data on facilities were generally lacking. Mr Perry said.
  • Establish incentives to attract and retain teachers.
  • Create a list of acceptable expenses to give districts more freedom. As District Superintendent Brian Kress pointed out, Blackfoot has different needs than the larger district.

IASA also expects a recession in many districts after federal emergency relief funds run out.

ESA and vouchers

The law on education savings accounts and tuition vouchers remains the primary concern of IASA.

In March, the House Education Committee narrowly defeated a bill that would allow families to use public funds for private school tuition and fees through the ESA. In doing so, the bill would redirect state funds from public schools.

The bill for vouchers stems from increased demand for school choice in Idaho, largely due to public school curriculum and accountability concerns.

At Wednesday’s meeting, however, he argued that the vouchers created a major lack of accountability because private schools do not adhere to the same public records requirements as public schools.

quality teaching method

Grover briefed on the Quality Education Act, a voter initiative that will go to the ballot this November.

The Reclaim Idaho measure would generate $323 million for K-12 schools by taxing businesses and Idaho’s top earners. However, this year’s income tax cut could be reversed, leaving taxpayers with her $573 million instead.

None of the organizations present at Wednesday’s meeting have indicated a stance on the initiative, although that could be the case in the coming months.

This article was originally posted on IdahoEdNews.org on August 4, 2022.