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?