House Declares War on Public Schools

Talk about micromanagement.

HB 364 would require every public and public charter school in Idaho to start classes on the first Tuesday after Labor Day.

And guess who’s sponsoring it?

The House Education Committee.

So members aren’t content with deciding the number of hours each student must spend in classes and which classes are required. They also want to dictate that all school calendars resemble those of the 1960s.

There are reasons that classes start in August. Folks like classes to start before football games do. Kids are more adapted to the heat–and more apt to survive unairconditioned classrooms–in August than June.  The less time kids have to forget what they learned the previous school year, the better. And families like the longer breaks at Thanksgiving, Christmas and spring.

HB 364 may only be a straw, but the camel’s back is pretty strained.

The House is at war with public schools.

It’s still hard to believe that the Education Committee made the outrageous move of throwing out all certification and content standards. Yes, the Senate Education Committee undid their foolishness, but House Republicans delivered three more blows against public schools last week.

The House passed HB 347, over Speaker Scott Bedke’s opposition, that would make all taxing districts wait 11 months after a bond fails before requesting a vote on another one.

Since it takes a ⅔ vote to pass a bond, districts tend to put off that first request until overcrowding and building deficiencies are not just projected, but obvious to all paying attention.

And, unlike jails, schools can’t just send kids home until adequate space opens up.

And the State Affairs Committee proposed HB 393 that would allow votes on school levies and bonds only in May and November.

Most school districts present levy elections in March. A November vote means they’d have to budget for the 2021-22 school year before the 2020-2021 was well underway.  A May vote means districts won’t know what funds will be available before the deadlines for issuing teacher contracts and pre-registering students for the next year.

Legislators know this. That’s why school districts were allowed March and August election dates when the legislature acted to consolidate dates.

You’d think some Republicans are unhappy that public schools keep functioning in spite of hurdles the legislature sets up.

Sure, charter schools survive without levies.  The legislature gives them a per pupil allotment more than twice as large as most public schools receive.

Charter school supporters didn’t even have to pass an initiative to make that happen.

 The Education Committee captured headlines again when three Republican members walked out of a presentation on recommendations from Governor Little’s  “Our Kids, Idaho’s Future” task force.

Idaho’s suicide rate is fifth highest in the nation. Nearly one-fourth of students surveyed said they’d seriously considered suicide in the past year.

Montana, with a suicide even higher than Idaho’s, passed a million-dollar suicide prevention program in 2017 and saw completed suicides drop 15% the first year.

Oregon, ranking 14th, is just now implementing a $1 billion program aimed at improving students’ mental and behavioral health.

The Idaho task force recommended a $1 million program to train teachers to identify high risk students and address risky youth behaviors.

Republicans Barbara Ehardt and Tony Wisniewski argued that we should conjure up the 1960s and let such problems be taken care of at home.

They didn’t even go so far as recommending thoughts and prayers.

Are these the best legislators Idaho voters can find?

Idaho House committees attack regulations

The Idaho House declared all-out war on regulations last week.  

The House Education Committee led by annihilating existing standards for teacher certification and for curricula in English, math, and science. 

The committee didn’t just riddle the standards with holes. They killed them outright–though the Senate Ed Committee may still resurrect them.  Existing regulations need only pass one germane committee to remain in effect; they don’t go before the full House or Senate.  

I have to admit that I was totally unaware that voters were unhappy that teachers had to have credentials, especially now that we have alternative education programs that substitute a summer institute for a year of graduate credits and allow people with no credentials to teach in charter schools. I think teachers should know that parroting isn’t comprehension and should have college credits in the subjects they teach.  

Some voters do complain that the math and English standards, which closely mirror ‘common core’ standards used by most other states, cripple local control and replaced needed instruction time with expensive, time-consuming testing. 

Ed committee members, however, didn’t argue for local control or less testing. They complained that student scores have failed to rise and called for new standards that “work.”  So the Idaho science standards, written by some of the state’s best educators, got thrown out with the ‘common core’ ones.  

And the Department of Ed is now mandated to write standards that show Idaho’s ill-funded schools are doing a great job. 

    The House Agricultural Committee joined the attack on existing regulations by killing rules barring crop dusters from spraying pesticides on occupied structures, during certain wind speeds, or near hazard areas.

After all, regulations drive up costs for private companies. 

Members of the industry argued that crop dusters today are skilled and professional and that only the Federal Aviation Agency has the power to regulate items in flight. 

Never mind that the FAA has never regulated Idaho crop dusters.  And never mind that today’s pesticides are designed to be faster acting and more potent than ever.

 Idaho’s Department of Agriculture actually had the audacity to ticket a pilot after a dozen Parma farmworkers were hospitalized.  

Regulations that get enforced are the worst.  

And the House Resources and Conservation Committee joined the attack on regulations by blocking a bill that would have fined individuals up to $1000 for blocking access to public roads. A study by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership estimates that private blockades prevent Idahoans from accessing 208,000 acres of the state’s public lands. 

So what if you can no longer pick berries at the spot your family has liked for decades. Regulations are bad. And Idaho can boast of having fewer pages of regulations than any other state.  

So what do these attacks mean for Idahoans? 

The proposal to fine people for blocking roads is dead this session.

The three existing regulations will now go to the ‘germane’ Senate committees. If they pass there, they will remain in effect.  

If they don’t, the agencies involved have the right to adopt ‘temporary regulations’ which the same committees will give thumbs up or down next session.  

If both the House and Senate Agricultural committees want the state’s power to monitor crop dusting gone, the Department of Agriculture would risk cuts in funding if they reinstated the regulations. 

But the House Education Committee hasn’t said it doesn’t want standards–heaven forbid that local school districts have a say–but it hasn’t asked for specific changes. Some Republican members have said their vote doesn’t change anything at all. 

Though it does give them points with some big donors.    

  

Regulations: Good or bad?

Update on my Jan. 28 column : The legislature is no longer considering a bill regulating changes in party affiliation prior to Idaho’s Presidential Primary this year.  

 Republicans fight big government.  

That hasn’t stopped them from creating laws that allow the state government to micromanage school curricula and budgeting and to dictate how much and how county  and city governments may collect revenue.  

And it certainly hasn’t stopped Republicans from crafting laws that give Idaho an incarceration rate roughly double that of Russia. Or from seeking ways to throw the roughly 1,500 Idaho women who get abortions each year into jails that we can’t afford to build. 

But just ask them–Republicans fight big government.    

Now, no one is going to say they’re happy that the price of a pair of Epipens which counteract life-threatening allergies has increased from $450 to $700 in five years.  

But many believe doing nothing is better than getting government involved. 

And no one is happy that 346 people died when two Boeing 737 MAX planes crashed within months of its release. 

But that doesn’t keep Republicans from advocating only self-regulation for industry. What could go wrong with pork processing plants policing themselves?        

 Leading the fight for deregulation are big corporations (aka big political donors) and minions like ALEC (which writes bills for state legislators) and the Idaho Freedom Foundation. 

So when House Minority leader Ilana Rubel introduced a bill with new regulations in mid-January, the Freedom Foundation gave it one of the lowest scores ever: -7. 

This bill, singled out as one of the terriblest of the terrible, would require daycare facilities to transport children “safely and legally, using child safety restraints as required by state law…”

It would require criminal background checks on all persons who regularly came in contact with the children at a daycare. 

And it would require day care operators to take 20 hours of training each year in subjects such as first aid and ‘pediatric rescue breathing.’ 

Well, you can be sure the Idaho House voted that bill down 23-44.  (Seven Canyon County representatives helped make that defeat possible–Greg Chaney, Robert Anderst, Rick Youngblood, Brent Crane, and Gary Collins.)

Day care operators were happy with the bill. Yet, 44 legislators fought the bill even after Rep. Rubel pointed out that Idaho stood to lose $2.5 million in federal support for the Idaho Childcare Program if our regulations weren’t updated.

Is it Federal money legislators don’t like–or kids? 

This is, after all, the same legislature that gives parents the final word on whether a child receives medical care and the right to choose husbands for 15-year-old daughters.

Now, a bill promoting new regulations is generating a Republican vs. Republican confrontation. 

Idaho billionaire–and major Republican donor–Frank VanderSloot has created the Idaho Patient Act, requiring doctors and medical facilities to make patient bills timely and clear–and to cap medical collection fees at $750, if contested, and $350 if not. 

Vandersloot cares because one of his employees was hit with $6,200 in collection fees on a $294 bill–which she had not received before it was turned over to a law firm for collection.  

And the manager of that law firm–Medical Recovery Services–is Rep. Bryan Zollinger, (R-Idaho Falls.)  He claims that the new regulation would force everyone’s medical bills up because doctors would just have to pay the cost of collection.    

Would doctors actually authorize $6200 in expenses to collect a $294 bill? 

Vandersloot’s bill will be introduced by powerful legislators–Jason Monks, assistant House majority leader, and Kelly Anthon, Senate majority caucus leader.  They cite the bill as a ‘reasonable solution’ to a ‘convoluted problem.’  

Will the pro- or anti-regulators win?  Stay tuned.  

Idaho election rules in flux

The moment political junkies around the country have been waiting for is less than a week away: Iowa voters will caucus on Monday, Feb. 3. New Hampshire,  Nevada, and South Carolina primaries will follow soon.    

Admittedly, this year Republicans won’t have a lot at stake in these contests.  Yet, there will be clues to how voters may think in November. Did suburban housewives select Democratic ballots? Was turnout among young voters as high or higher than in 2018?  Does it look like voters are ready for a woman president?   

.The deluge comes on Super Tuesday, March 3, when 14 states, including California,hold primaries.   

On Tuesday, March 10, six states–including Idaho–will cast ballots. Seven more states will vote before the end of the month. 

By March 31, we will know how nearly two-thirds of the Democratic convention delegates will vote on the first ballot. 

That hasn’t been true before because California–with its 415 regular delegates–has traditionally voted in June. (Idaho is allotted 20 delegates.)  

I’ve heard a lot of questions about the changes in Idaho’s election process this year–and it is complicated.  Here’s my best shot at the answers.

Are Idaho Democrats having a presidential primary or caucuses this year?  

Both–though the caucuses will not resemble the huge ones of 2008 and 2016.

The March 10 primary will determine how many supporters each candidate will get at the state convention.  In theory, up to six candidates may poll over the 15% required to earn delegates to the state convention. Barely a dozen Idaho counties, however, are allotted six or more delegates.  

Attendees at the county caucuses on Saturday, April 4, will divide according to the candidate they support and select delegate(s) to fill the slots at the state convention in June. The number of allotted delegates and the location of each county caucus are listed under 2020 primary elections at www.idahodems.org. (Note: Arrive early; traditionally, doors close when caucussing begins.) 

Those at the state convention will elect Idaho’s 20 committed delegates to the National Democratic Convention.  

 What’s this about party affiliation?  Registration forms in Idaho now require voters to state their party preference–unaffiliated is an option. Parties may select which affiliations qualify voters to receive their ballots at the presidential primary in March and the general in May.

Republicans are very consistent; primary voters must be registered Republicans.

Democrats are all over the place. Democrats and unaffiliated voters may vote the Democratic ballot on March 10; only Democrats may participate in the caucuses; and any voter may select a Democratic ballot in the general primary. 

Current rules allow persons to change their party affiliation at the polls for the March 10 primary and at the Democratic delegate selection caucuses. Only those who affiliate with the Republican party on or before March 13 may vote in the Republican general primary. 

Any chance these rules will change soon?  

Definitely. A bill already in its third reading in the Idaho House  (HO 322) would require voters to change their party affiliation on or before the final day of candidate filing for an election.  For future presidential primaries that day would be mid-December. 

Unaffiliated voters could still select a party ballot when voting, but they would no longer be unaffiliated. Their ballot choice would become a matter of public record.         

The bill’s emergency clause would make the day the bill was signed the final day for changing affiliation prior to the March 10 primary.  

The form for changing party affiliation is available at https://idahovotes.gov/voting/.  It can be mailed or emailed to your county clerk.

Ed funding choice: Rice or Reclaim

It’s great that Caldwell Sen. Jim Rice recognizes there is a need to lower property taxes. 

Didn’t Sen, Jim Risch address the same concern while governor?

And both Republicans came up with the same solution–raise the sales tax. 

The plans aren’t identical.  Risch’s action took away $260 million in school funding and replaced it with $210 million in sales tax without guaranteeing the sales tax money would go to schools.  

Rice’s plan would replace $214 million in supplemental property tax levies with an estimated $250 million in sales tax dedicated to education. (Extra funds could increase current school funding, go to a “rainy day” account for schools, or replace general funds now going to schools.)

But school districts would lose the power to request supplemental levies. 

Those who remember the recession of 2007 understand why that’s a concern.

Thirty-three states raised taxes during the 2007 recession. Idaho legislators saw this as a chance to lure businesses from other states, so they lowered taxes instead.  

Revenue fell 11% and legislators cut state funding for education by 20–at least that’s what they claimed in campaign literature.   

Idaho voters responded by approving supplemental levies in record amounts; they understood that kids’ development can’t wait until it’s affordable. 

Can voters today trust future legislatures to do better by our children?  

Sen. Rice has suggested that we ask them. The legislature could present his plan as a referendum for Idaho voters to pass or reject–like the Luna Laws. 

So voters may be voting this November on two different plans for funding education,  Rice’s proposal, as submitted by the legislature, and the Invest in Idaho initiative for which Reclaim Idaho volunteers are gathering signatures around the state. 

Invest in Idaho cites a decrease in supplemental levies as one benefit, but the emphasis is on increasing funding for schools.  .  

“We’ve all seen the costs of Idaho’s failure to invest in education: outdated and torn-up textbooks; overcrowded classrooms; underfunded special education; unfunded kindergarten; cuts to career-technical training; poverty wages for support staff; qualified teachers leaving the state in droves because Idaho will not pay competitive salaries” (https://www.reclaimidaho.org/our-campaign).

And the plans for funding are entirely different.

Rice’s plan would raise Idaho’s sales tax rate to 7%. That would place it in a four-way tie for second highest in the nation. 

Merchants along the borders with sales-tax-free Oregon and Montana will be at an even greater disadvantage.

 And people in the middle and low income brackets would pay a higher rate than the wealthy–that’s a must for any tax proposed by a Republican. A person who spends most of their income buying necessities pays on more of their income than those who spend only half–and Idaho is notorious for waiving sales taxes on airplanes and such for its wealthiest citizens.  

 Reclaim Idaho’s plan would not increase taxes for those with middle and low incomes.  

The total raise would be less–about $170 million–and would fall on only a few. 

The tax on corporate taxable income would be restored to its previous level of 7%–a cost of about $4 per $1000 in profit. 

Currently individuals in Idaho pay nearly 7% on all income over $11,554. Invest in Idaho would add another tax bracket; earnings over $250,000 would be taxed at nearly 10%–an additional $30 per $1000 earned.  

It’d be great if legislators simply enacted Invest in Idaho. It’d save a lot of time and shoe leather for volunteers. 

And there’s always the chance that voters could pass both plans next November. 

Wouldn’t that make for some battles during the legislature’s 2021 session?