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House Bill 309 — Schools, polling locations

House Bill 309 — Schools, polling locations

Parrish Miller
March 14, 2023

Bill Description: House Bill 309 would close public schools to students on election days.

NOTE: House Bill 309 is similar to House Bill 111, introduced earlier this session. 

Rating: -2

Does it increase government redistribution of wealth? Examples include the use of tax policy or other incentives to reward specific interest groups, businesses, politicians, or government employees with special favors or perks; transfer payments; and hiring additional government employees. Conversely, does it decrease government redistribution of wealth?

House Bill 309 amends Section 33-512, Idaho Code, dealing with the governance of public schools, to say, "There shall be no in-person student instruction on election days taking place in May and November each year, and there shall be no in-person student instruction in any school district holding an election pursuant to section 34-106(7), Idaho Code." (This section refers to the special school district elections held in March and August on bonded indebtedness and property tax levy questions.)

The new language also says, "The board of trustees of each school district shall determine the instruction and activities to be held on such election days, which shall not require or encourage students to be present in school buildings."

It provides an exception, saying that "in-person student instruction may occur upon a joint resolution between the county clerk and school district that student-occupied buildings will not be designated as polling places." 

The bill says "instruction includes virtual instruction" and it defines "activities" as "professional development, personnel training, and teacher in-service."

Under this subsection, local school boards appear to be given wide latitude to determine if in-person instruction will occur and, if not, what type of alternative activities or virtual instruction might take its place. 

In some districts, students and school employees could effectively receive government-recognized, school-only holidays on election days. These special holidays could make it easier for school employees to engage in electioneering activities, which would effectively be subsidized by taxpayers. 


Does it increase government spending (for objectionable purposes) or debt? Conversely, does it decrease government spending or debt?

It is unclear how these policies will be implemented, and the bill's statement of purpose even states that "there is a delayed effective date to ensure adequate time to adjust school calendars and contracts to facilitate this change."

Idahoans spend billions of dollars every year on public schools, and creating new school-only holidays could require adding additional regular school days to offset lost days of instruction. Every additional school day costs taxpayers millions of dollars.

If a given district chooses to offer virtual instruction on election days, this too would impose costs on taxpayers, while failing to provide normal in-person instruction to students. It is also unclear if any meaningful instruction would occur on these days, given that not all students would be able to participate in the virtual instruction.

Despite the assertion in the bill's fiscal note that "there are no fiscal impacts at the state or local level," there will almost certainly be additional costs associated with implementing these new requirements. 

There is a fair degree of irony in a policy that calls for spending taxpayer dollars to hold an election for school boards, bonds, and levies, while also barring students from the very schools meant to provide them with instruction.


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