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Recapping Idaho’s year of education micro-reform

Recapping Idaho’s year of education micro-reform

by
Kaitlyn Shepherd
April 4, 2022
Kaitlyn Shepherd
Author Image
April 4, 2022

Supporters of education choice and parental rights will remember Idaho’s 2022 legislative session as the Year of the Micro-reform. Instead of implementing meaningful changes that give families control over their children’s education, the Legislature passed inconsequential bills that failed to make major headway in solving the problems plaguing Idaho’s education system. 

2022 Session Recap: Education Bills

The education bills this session spanned a variety of issues such as teacher certification, content standards, full-day kindergarten, teacher pay and bonuses, school board trustee vacancies, student scholarships, and school mask mandate exemptions. 

Significant pieces of legislation that became law include:

  • Senate Bill 1291a — Charter school teacher certification. The bill allows teachers who serve at public charter schools to pursue an alternative certification. Each charter school will be able to establish its own independent certification standards. Allowing charter school teachers to opt out of radical state certification requirements was a key policy recommendation in our report, Critical Social Justice in Idaho K-12 Education, which revealed how critical race theory is written into Idaho’s statewide teacher certification standards.
  • House Bill 650a — Curricular materials adoption committees. The bill increases transparency by requiring school boards to seek approval from a curricular materials adoption committee before approving curriculum for use in the district. Under the amended version of the bill, 50% of the committee must be made up of people who are not teachers or school board members, including parents. 
  • Senate Bill 1319 — Clean school buses. This law allows Idaho schools to use the Federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 funding to buy low or zero emission school buses. Enabling the federal government to subsidize school bus purchases in Idaho — on the basis of wasteful climate change initiatives — expands the federal government’s power in public education. Doing so will directly lead to funding systems instead of students. As IFF’s Anna Miller noted previously, “Idaho students would benefit from a practical approach to infrastructure rather than one based on progressive climate-related fads and dramatic spending increases.” 
  • House Bill 776 — University budgets. This bill rewards universities with a 5% pay increase and colleges with an 8% increase that comes from the state general fund, despite the fact that Idaho’s public colleges and universities continue to push social justice programs in contravention of the Legislature’s directives.
  • Senate Bill 1290 — Rural educator incentive program. The bill forces taxpayers to subsidize student loans for educators who work in rural districts in Idaho. Eligible teachers with student loans or other qualifying educational expenses could receive up to $12,000 in loan forgiveness over a four-year period. This bill will only further drive up the cost of tuition and punish hard-working graduates who paid off their own student loans. 
  • House Bill 790 — Full-day kindergarten and literacy funding. The bill expands the government education monopoly by changing the literacy funding formula so that public schools can establish taxpayer-funded full-day kindergarten programs. This program will raise the cost of stay-at-home parenting and hamper the marketplace by crowding out private providers of educational services. 

A piece of significant legislation passed by the Legislature but vetoed by the governor is:

  • House Bill 533 — Master educator premiums. This bill would have allowed certain public-school administrators to receive master educator premiums after transitioning from teaching roles. Normally, teachers who meet a set of minimum requirements qualify for bonus payments of $4,000 per year for a total of three years. However, if these teachers leave the classroom and become administrators, they lose any premiums they have not received. House Bill 533 would have allowed administrators who earned master educator premiums to continue to receive them even though they are no longer teaching. The bill would have expanded the existing education bureaucracy by encouraging teachers at public schools to take on administrative responsibilities. Instead of working with students, teachers would have been allowed to transition to prestigious administrative roles while retaining the premiums they earned as teachers. Some teachers might move to existing administrative positions, but rewarding teachers who become administrators could fuel administrative bloat.

Significant pieces of legislation that died in committee or on the floor include:

  • Senate Bill 1374 — Mandatory career exploration courses. This bill would have forced eighth grade students at public schools to take a career exploration course, regardless of parental desires or consent. The bill failed on the House floor. 
  • House Bill 806 — Commission for Libraries budget. This bill cut a $307,000 line item funding the Idaho Digital E-Book Alliance (IDEA), which gives students independent access to several books pushing critical social justice and Marxist ideologies. The final budget for the Commission that eventually passed included an additional $3.5 million line item reduction.
  • House Bill 684 — Protecting campus free speech in higher education act. This bill would have protected the right of members of the campus community to engage in a wide array of expressive activities like assembling, protesting, speaking, inviting guests to speak, carrying signs, and handing out flyers or petitions. Under the bill, public colleges and universities would have been prohibited from creating free speech zones. In addition, the bill would have required universities to publicize free speech policies, laws, and expectations in handbooks, student orientation programs, and on university websites. The bill was sent to amending orders in the Senate but was not amended before the session concluded.
  • House Bill 669 — Hope and opportunity scholarships. This school choice bill would have enacted one of the most expansive education savings account programs in the nation. Approximately 65% of Idaho families would have received $5,950 per student to customize each child’s education. 

Legislative Accomplishments

Teacher Certification

Teacher certification is one avenue through which critical social justice ideologies trickle into public schools. Idaho’s state education agencies use mandatory certification requirements to force teachers to receive training in anti-racism or culturally responsive teaching to enter the profession. The Idaho Legislature passed House Bill 1291a, which would allow public charter schools to develop their own certification standards, but this bill does not apply to district schools. The bill represents a step in the right direction in decentralizing certification decisions to the local level but could have gone farther.

Commission for Libraries Budget 

The Legislature passed a budget defunding the Idaho Commission for Libraries by nearly $4 million. This funding reduction included removing $307,000 in funding for the Idaho Digital E-Book Alliance (IDEA), an initiative that provides students at nearly 400 school libraries independent access to many titles that promote the sexualization of children and Marxist ideologies like critical race theory. Removing funding for this initiative helps protect students from politically motivated ideologies infiltrating public and school libraries.

Missed Opportunities

Parental Permission for School Clubs

House Bill 680 would have required schools to receive written permission from a student’s parents before that student participated in any student club or organization at school. Because some organizations available to students may not align with a parent’s values or expectations, it is critical that parents are informed about the options available to their student and give affirmative consent before the student participates.

Parental Permission for Student Data Collection

Increasingly, schools are incorporating instructional components that focus less on academic content and more on students’ mental or behavioral health. One new tool used to accomplish this in schools is social-emotional learning (SEL) programs. SEL programs often collect sensitive data about students, including their personalities, behavior, attitudes, and psychological or emotional status, all without parental consent. This data is stored in a statewide longitudinal database and can be shared with outside organizations. Passing legislation requiring parental consent before information on a student’s social and emotional health is collected or stored would be a positive step toward protecting student privacy and enforcing parental rights.

Curriculum Transparency 

Curriculum transparency is becoming increasingly important to parents. Parents have the right to direct the education and care of their children and are not subservient partners to the state. Parents deserve to see for themselves what their children are learning in the public education system without having to rely on the assurances of school officials. Although the Legislature passed a minor transparency bill, which increased the representation of parents and citizens on curricular materials adoption committees, giving parents access to any and all curricular and supplemental materials distributed to children would be a stronger way to restore parental rights.

Education Choice 

In 2021, 19 states passed new or expanded education choice programs, which enable parents to choose the right educational environment for their child or customize that child’s education to fit his or her unique needs, interests, and goals. House Bill 669, which failed in the House Education Committee by a vote of 8-7, would have established education savings accounts for which 65% of Idaho K-12 students would have qualified. Five Republicans joined the Democrats in the House Education Committee to kill the bill. Because a one-size-fits-all government-run education system does not meet the unique needs of each student, parents should have the flexibility to use their child’s education dollars to choose the mix of educational products and services that best serves their child. 

Summary 

Rather than going for the gold and instituting transformational changes for the benefit of Idaho’s students and families, the Legislature implemented minor changes to the existing education system that failed to make significant improvements.

The Legislature could have passed robust legislation to protect parental rights by requiring consent for student data collection and participation in school clubs and allowing parents to view supplemental curriculum used in the classroom. Instead, the Legislature slightly increased parent representation on curriculum advisory committees.

The Legislature had an opportunity to pass an education choice bill that would have allowed the majority of students to receive a customized education that fits their needs. Instead, the Legislature expanded the existing public school monopoly by creating full-day kindergarten programs and increasing spending on the system. 

The Legislature gave families slightly more flexibility within the existing public system but did not implement any changes that constitute “school choice.”

For instance, Rep. Codi Galloway characterized Senate Bill 1373 as an education choice bill. During a hearing on the bill, Galloway argued that at its core, “This bill really is about choice in education.” However, the bill changed how literacy funding is allocated to allow for taxpayer-funded all-day kindergarten programs. By expanding the government’s role in education, the bill will actually limit parental choice by hampering the marketplace and driving up prices for private alternatives. 

Similarly, Senate Bill 1255, which gives students $1,000 grants to use for a limited set of educational expenses, was billed as school choice legislation, even though it does not provide enough money for students to pay tuition at an alternative school and does not include private school tuition as an eligible expense.

These pieces of legislation were falsely portrayed as “school choice,” and they failed to enable Idaho’s families to choose the best educational environment for their children.

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