IEA HOTLINE Podcast

Idaho Legislature - Week 7

March 03, 2023 Mike Journee Season 1 Episode 11
Idaho Legislature - Week 7
IEA HOTLINE Podcast
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IEA HOTLINE Podcast
Idaho Legislature - Week 7
Mar 03, 2023 Season 1 Episode 11
Mike Journee

In this episode of the HOTLINE Podcast, our panel discusses Week 7 of the Idaho Legislature’s 2023 session, including the defeat of extreme voucher and maneuvering around other voucher bills, failed attempts to police and censor libraries and other action around education policy.

Joining today’s conversation are:

  • IEA’s Political Director Chris Parri
  • IEA Associate Executive Director Matt Compton
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of the HOTLINE Podcast, our panel discusses Week 7 of the Idaho Legislature’s 2023 session, including the defeat of extreme voucher and maneuvering around other voucher bills, failed attempts to police and censor libraries and other action around education policy.

Joining today’s conversation are:

  • IEA’s Political Director Chris Parri
  • IEA Associate Executive Director Matt Compton
Mike Journee:

Welcome to Idaho education Association's hotline podcast, a weekly discussion about what's happening at the Idaho legislature around public education and the policy priorities of ies members, EAA members of public school educators from all over the state. They're Idaho's most important education experts, and they use their influence to fight for a free quality and equitable public education for every student in the state. I'm Mike journee, communications director at the IEA and I'll be your host for this episode of hotline. In this episode, our panel discusses week seven of the Idaho legislators 2023 session, including the defeat of an extreme voucher bill, maneuvering around other voucher legislation, failed attempts to police and sensor libraries, and other action around education policy. joining me for today's conversation, our IEA is political director Chris Perry. And IEA Associate Executive Director Matt Compton. So Matt, Chris, thanks for joining me again for hotline podcast. And you know, it's been a kind of a crazy week, this week at the Idaho legislature very crazy.

Matt Compton:

Yes.

Mike Journee:

And it's been very interesting to watch. We've had some, some really good things happen on education policy. We've had some interesting things happen around education policy, there's been just a lot of different things happening. And so I think we just to start off with what happened on Monday on the on the Senate floor with with House Bill 1038. We had I know the senators rejected that voucher bill that we've been talking about, it was on a vote of 12 to 23. You know, the bill brought forward we talked about it a couple times now, buffer by Tammy Nichols from Meridian and Brian Linney out of Nampa and it was a really pretty lopsided vote considering what we thought was gonna get tighter. So great news for our members, right, Chris?

Chris Parri:

Oh, man, what like an exciting way to stomp on this bill, because I think we all expected it to be a lot closer than it actually ended up being. So what this vote means 12 to 23. I mean, it's like two to one against these vouchers. It's all it also means that every senator that received emails from our members over that time, voted against this bill. So it was incredible. It was great to see I think the the consensus amongst the state senate was that they need to send a message that these types of bills are just not going to be tolerated, and particularly the very aggressive and kind of petulant lobbying tactics that the that side used, are also not going to play well.

Matt Compton:

And the State Senate, you know, encouraging the Idaho Freedom Foundation ranked, you know, they scored this on their freedom index, a plus five, which is a pretty significant rating. So that means if you voted against it, you'd now have five points deducted away from your score. And if 23 lawmakers were willing to do that, it does look like they're kind of like standing up to the bully, you know, all right. elements at the legislature, a two to one ratio against this legislation is telling. And when you listen to the debate on the floor, you recognize so many of those talking points that we and other stakeholders have been sharing before the session began. And this is not the first time we've had this fight. But when it comes to the lack of accountability, and the ballooning price, we've talked about that before on the podcast. That's exactly what the lawmakers were saying when they were debating this. So they they took our truth and used it to defeat some really, really bad legislation.

Mike Journee:

All right. And so you're talking about the scorecard that the IFF uses to rate lawmakers in years past that's been a really, really powerful tool, influential tool. Yes. Has and so, you know, the fact that that tide has turned a little bit, especially around this issue is something that's that seems very interesting to me. And I think, I think it's probably bearing out in some of the other bills that we'll talk about today, as well, that we're here that we're hearing about. So Chris, you mentioned the fact that our that our members sent about 200 least 230 members sent over sent 1000s of emails to two senators about this. So and they really stood up and were counted on this bill. I think that's that's a really engaged people understand that the damage vouchers can do to our public schools, and they jumped in and did it.

Chris Parri:

Yeah, that's it speaks to the power of IEA members as the state's best education experts to to get out there and really tell the story of why, you know, not only is public school funding in dire need of more essentially to get us to where we want to be but how this creates a huge threat to the future of public schools for the very reasons that the senators were speaking to on the floor to it's that siphoning away the ballooning budget. Yeah, all of that stuff. So I think I think it's really validating, I think, to see how effective our members really are, and that the senators will listen, I'll jump ahead. I know we want to talk about this a little later. But there were additional voucher bills that were supposed to be heard in the House Education Committee. This week, a couple of them were pulled back. But the even the House members when they were talking to one another, and to the audience, were saying that they were getting five to one emails against the essays and they said, We're going to be voting for our constituents, or we campaigned on this, I'm not going to turn my back on public education. And they stood stood firm. And the messages that they're getting from everyday Idahoans and our members about vouchers,

Matt Compton:

It directly correlates with all of the polling that we've done that we know that this is not a popular concept. And now we really just need to start talking about teacher pay and adequate funding for schools.

Mike Journee:

Right. And Chris mentioned the fact that the some of the key reasons that the senators vote against this was accountability, and the cost, you know, we know that the bill sponsors originally really lowball the cost on this $20 million. They said, this is going to cost. And of course, when people started questioning, and they raised that to 40 million, okay, you know, we can do that. But then we had a third party come forward and say, no, no, this is really likely what is going to cost more in the neighborhood of 370 million here in a couple of years. And so I think people were like, you know, they were taken, probably taken aback by that. I didn't come up with much of the debate. But it still was interesting to that that came forward. So cost and accountability, the inability for taxpayers to track where this money's going, how it's being used in education.

Matt Compton:

And so, you know, we've been talking about those things from from the very beginning. So before the session, because we were using the Arizona model, which Idaho was trying to adopt, as the example of how this ballooning costs just gets out of control. And that's what, that's what Arizona is experiencing. Now. It started at something like $200 million, and now they're looking at upwards of a billion dollars in voucher funds. The what I really like about where we are on this debate is that the concept of the camels nose under the tent like that, that is becoming more and more evident, I think, to senators and the general public, like you might have a, quote unquote, modest price tag on your proposal after the get go. But I think everybody now knows like these things only go one direction, Ratchet only goes one direction, and no state has successfully pulled it back from from that precipice. And those voucher bills that we're going to discuss that we're going to be or what were introduced into House Education, that's those are examples of that camel knows they had small fiscal impacts. It was for a small group of students that would be eligible for it. Well, we know once that goes into effect, that the next year the legislature will come back and just as they did in in Arizona, and turn it into a universal program.

Mike Journee:

Well, let's go ahead and talk about that those bills then because that happened on Thursday, in the in the House Education Committee. And at the start of the day, there were three different voucher bills on the on the docket. They were with the called ESAs, education savings accounts, all three of them. One of them, which you mentioned, to your point the camels nose. Last year, the empowering parents grant program was brought forward. And originally the sponsors of that Bill wanted to include tuition in that you guys did a great job of negotiating with them along with the other education stakeholders to get that pulled out. The sponsor of one of the bills brought forward to this year was an expansion of that empowering parents program that would again include tuition.

Chris Parri:

And I think we've talked a little bit about empowering parents and how it is a universal program. So public school parents can pull grants out of this and use it for investments in the home, because and I think that was part of the appeal as well, right? And now to have them coming back and saying, Well, now, you know, we're going to cut the cut the money, and we're going to say only some of this can be used for public school parents, but the majority of it will go towards tuition or something like that. It really does undermine the entire good piece of that legislation. And I think I think a lot of stakeholders see that I think the governor sees that as well.

Matt Compton:

And last year, when we testified on empowering parents, we said, you know, we kind of want to guarantee that this stays the way that it's written do not include tuition. We got the nod from the legislature that it would remain the same and unfortunately this year they come back and as suspected or trying to to use, you know, to use taxpayer dollars was to pay for private school tuition.

Chris Parri:

Gosh, they are trying everything to it is a desperate scenario.

Mike Journee:

And that's a really interesting point because I think the whole dynamic around that meeting in house education, there was a bill that was heard from representative clients cloud. And it was an ESA and they debated it long and hard. It ended up being voted down. And I think the sponsors of those other bills saw the writing on the wall after Monday's vote. And they and they, they probably heard through the grapevine that that House Education Committee members weren't inclined to approve any essays and they pulled those. They're gonna reroute those it sounds like So Wendy Hormann is sponsor of one of those bills. She's the the co-chairwoman of the Joint Finance and appropriations committee, the budget writing committee, so she's got some got some heft. So she's going to be moving, moving that bill to a more voucher friendly committee, it sounds like probably the same is going to happen. The other bill was pulling what you think

Chris Parri:

so yeah, and I just really quick to I want to point out, so the representative clouds bill, it was a print hearing, and it was probably the most debated print hearing that I've ever kind of seen in the legislature. But what a lot of the representatives say, you know, said was, at first at least they were they were kind of talking about well, we should at least give this a print hearing or something. Send this to print and then you know, if we still disagree with it after a print hearing is really

Mike Journee:

Lets explain what that is real quick. So that and so that's so if someone someone introduces legislation, a committee print, quote, prints agrees to print the bill. And that means they agreed to have a public hearing on the bill. It's then given a bill number and that kind of thing. And it becomes a bill in the old school since from the from the school rock days, you know, but it it and so these this these lessons shows just legislations, typically print hearings are very brief. They're very high level discussions about what the bill will do. But that wasn't the case on

Chris Parri:

No, exactly. Yeah, there was a ton of debate talking about a lot of the talking points that that the Senate also talked about in shutting down. Senator Nichols and Senator Lenny's bill. What I found really interesting was, as the debate developed, and representatives realized what Representative Hormann and Representative Crane had done with the other two bills, pulled them out, and trying to reroute them potentially through a different committee, that's more voucher friendly. They said, well, we can't even risk giving this a print hearing. So in essence, you could blame representative Horman reps in Ukraine for the failure and risk of wildflowers gonna get why couldn't risk it because I think representative Lanting put it best. He said, You know, I campaigned against CSAs. i It was a campaign promise of mine. I do in in, in theory support saying this a print and having a discussion about and having a full debate with the public about it. But if there's no guarantee that this is going to come back to the House Education Committee, if we print this and it goes to some other voucher friendly committee, and I don't even have a chance to vote on it, it's just a risk that I'm not willing to take. And I think that that's it's it's really an indictment of this kind of cynical tactic of of choosing the committee that best suits your legislation, rather than having the the legislation heard by the committee that is germane to the issue, and essentially has been hearing about this stuff is more has more expertise on these issues.

Matt Compton:

One would think the House leadership actually chooses the makeup of these committees, you then trust them to make the decisions on each piece of legislation, in the middle of the ballgame to change tactics, and now disregard the committee and try to go through a more friendly committee just seems bizarre. I've been here for a long time. And this is not a tactic that I'm very familiar with this is this seems like a pretty extreme happens. Very rare. Very rarely, and it's something I've seen before but it's but it's usually it's usually in a situation like this, where they were where there's there's something that that somebody really, really wants, that's powerful and wants it and and they recognize that they're not going to get it from that committee.

Mike Journee:

And so but, but and you know, you mentioned representative Lanting and his his his comment, Representative Greg Lanting, from Twin Falls. He's the one who gave the quote about getting five to one emails from his constituents saying vouchers are bad. Don't let any any of them through. And so really appreciate his his reasoned approach on on a lot of this legislation that we're seeing coming through the education committee, but but he's been a he's, you've commented, you really appreciate his approach on things.

Chris Parri:

Oh, yeah. He's he's one of my favorites right now. I think he's been really clear in his debate against vouchers. I also want to commend representative McCann. I mean, I could go down the entire list of good folks on the House Education Committee. They're just really great people that actually have values. They don't want to play games and political games with these serious issues. I really do want to commend representative representative McCann, she also mentioned that she had gotten emails five to one and spoke to the issue of rerouting bills and how that is a front to the committee and the people of Idaho.

Mike Journee:

So the upshot is we've got probably at least two more about your bills hanging out in the in the wings out there waiting to come forward, we are getting down toward the, the probably the least the last third of the session, probably I'm guessing, at least from the amount of legislation that's going to be coming through. So we're looking at budgets, so it's going to have to happen, it's gonna have to happen pretty quick. So.

Matt Compton:

So starting on on March 10, the J fac, Joint Finance and appropriations committee will start taking up the public school budgets, which includes teacher pay, classified pay, and all the programmatic budget work that schools depend on. I, you know, I think the messaging that we're going to shift to is, we've seen that there is not an appetite in the legislature for siphoning money off for non public schools. But we do know that there's a, there's a huge need to adequately fund teacher pay so that we can attract and retain teachers address the hemorrhaging problem that we have when it comes to a human resource issue, and then ensure that we're making those necessary investments in classified staff, so that we have, like I've said, in the past, more adults in the building, to help with some of the behavioral issues, reduce reduce the stress and frustration, that that our members are experiencing in schools. And that's those budget discussions are is where those those salaries going to be coming forward. And that's going to be happening here pretty quickly. So we are we're looking down toward the end of the end of the legislative session as we move forward.

Mike Journee:

So the there was another topic that came up this week on Wednesday, in the House Education Committee again, so it was the the members of the House Education Committee earn their modest pay as legislators this week, and I think Chairwoman Yamamoto particularly earned her keep it this week, just just by just just by the even handed and thoughtful way that she handled these really contentious issues. Anyway, the the the bill I'm talking about is House Bill 139. It was it's a it's a library smart bill, colloquially known that way. It's about certain quarters of the legislature wanting to be able to police, library materials, and do it outside of established processes that libraries and library districts have outside of the accountability of elected officials that oversee these libraries. And they ended up holding this bill in committee at a nine a vote.

Chris Parri:

Yeah, I mean, people who take the Idaho Freedom Foundation's like full line and believe it completely, they seem to think that there's like a massive wave of immoral materials that have pornographic materials. They talk about pornography constantly. They're in the debate. And there's not even a mentionable dog for free in the bill. Right, exactly. And I think there was a lot of frustration about, what are we actually talking about with this bill? You heard you heard it from representative Mathias as well? Like, are we talking about LGBTQ books and culture? Is that what we're talking about? You heard it from quite a few members like your, again, pornography is not mentioned in this bill. So why is every piece of of pro testimony talking about pornography here. And again, I mean, it's all in the eye of the beholder when it comes to this kind of stuff. And it really is a ton of frustration from people who have swallowed the Freedom Foundation lines, while at the Manhattan Institute line, all of this propaganda about harmful materials that are not harmful.

Mike Journee:

And folks, honestly, that are completely willing to, to press their own personal mores, upon society, and upon their community. If they see something they don't like, they want it gone, no matter what. And if it goes against their values, or whatever they think the world should look like. They're completely willing to completely willing to step on other people's rights in order to make that to make that happen.

Chris Parri:

Something I really appreciated that was brought up was that the library boards in these areas are elected, they are elected. So you can have a democratic election to elect these Library Association. Library Board, folks, if you don't like what's on the library shelves, kick out someone who, who's who's there, you know, make it her during an election. The reason that doesn't satisfy these folks is because they are a loud minority that could not do that in a fair election. So, of course, they're trying to kind of, you know, skate by the rules and remove books that the majority of people don't find anything harmful in. But they're just very frustrated that

Mike Journee:

there's a common theme roll around as a common theme around elections. Yeah, in recent years.

Matt Compton:

It's actually a common theme around the legislature this year as well. I think we're seeing far more bills addressing the LGBTQ community than I've seen in a longtime, I feel like we're going back in time to the early 90s, when this was a huge topic for Idaho.

Mike Journee:

And Chris, you made the point that this was this was an effort to, to bring forward frivolous lawsuits against libraries and against library districts with a $10,000 potential fine. It also for many small rural library districts and smaller libraries, that's a lot of money. Probably a volunteer director running a running a library in a little town. They're not going to have that kind of money to do and it could be a potentially fatal thing to a lot of libraries and law library districts. That's right on top of it, the liability that would be there, you mentioned, right, yeah.

Chris Parri:

So I mean, the the Idaho free Family Policy Center, which is an allied group of the Freedom Foundation, they stated plainly that the goal of legislation like this is to create a civil liability load, essentially, that affects insurance providers so that insurance providers will encourage libraries to self censor, to head off any potential lawsuits. So again, it's just amplifying the power of this small minority of people. And I think, you know, I'm sure we'll talk about it. But as you can see, after that Bill kill was killed and the testimony that came after, these are not reasonable people, you know, they were yelling at the committee, they were saying, you know, shame on you. And all this stuff is

Mike Journee:

representatives of the IFF as Freedom Foundation coming up and saying that to them.

Chris Parri:

Yep, exactly. So I didn't really say it was a really dramatic day in House Education. But I was really proud of our allies on that, that committee for the way they, they dealt with it,

Matt Compton:

we would be remiss if we didn't celebrate the IEA voices, the librarians who have either testified remotely or in person, we often talk about how our members are their best advocates, they do a better job advocating at the legislature than we as their lobbyists can do. And we had some some extraordinarily passionate and articulate librarians from the IAEA testify on behalf of their profession. And I think the Idaho libraries Association also deserves a shout out here to the president Lance McGrath has made a real effort to get librarians more involved in into these discussions, particularly after last year when those bills, this kind of same style of Bill was promulgating through the legislature. So the we work with our librarians and we are increasingly effective for it.

Mike Journee:

Yeah, I'm not just I'll just call out one of our members as well, Gregory Taylor, who is he's the, the teacher librarian at Hillside junior high here in Boise. And he was the 2022, school librarian of the year. And he testified and he talked about something that I thought was really fantastic. He talked about how, how books save lives, and and that over the years, he's had countless people right, and pull them aside and grocery stores at one instance, apparently had to fool them into the corner at a rock concert. And tell him thank you for recommending this book. It meant all the world to me, and it, it might have saved my life. So thank you for that. So that's, that's, that's a powerful, powerful notion about about what books can do and why libraries and their freedom to offer offer up the kind of, of literature and art that really changes lives.

Matt Compton:

There's been an interesting juxtaposition this year, with a number of parental rights where parents want to extend their their rights into classrooms, which I think is fantastic. The more parental influence and experience and engagement that we can have, the better of that argument just wasn't landing with these anti library folks where you do have a responsibility to have oversight of what it is that your kids are checking out of the library. You should censor their books, not not the librarians themselves.

Chris Parri:

Right, exactly. It's, oh, it's frustrating. I'm glad you brought that up. Because it is like it speaks to take an active role in your child's education, which ostensibly is what these people have been, you know, yelling about for years. But as soon as you ask them to they try and do bills like this, that completely, you know, absolve themselves of that responsibility. Well, you brought up the parent all rights bills. Yeah, I think I really appreciate superintendent

Mike Journee:

Let's go ahead and jump into those real quickly. Critchfield saying that this doesn't mean that there's There was one that was that was passed House Bill, or it's working its way through the process House Bill 163 with Judy something wrong currently happening in schools. You know, Boyle and Superintendent Crutchfield along with Senator Taves out of quarter lane, but Senator tase has a similar bill I think one of the dangers that sometimes pops up with these that's working its way through as well. So they've got we got a couple of parents rights bills. Now these these tend to be pretty popular people are people there okay, but it's since we bills is that it insinuates that something awful is going on and like we talked about the the earlier bill last week a little bit and, again, these are things that our schools are already doing a good school and again Each parent knows what's going on with their kid. This really codifies all that and even our members are standing up and saying, Yeah, this is a fine bill, we should we should support this. systemically with public schools. But she was very clear, when she testified in favor of this one, that this does not mean that there is something wrong going on, we just want to standardize the expectations of parents across the state. So they know how involved they can get. One last issue, guys, and that's that's facilities, something that we talked about going into the session was, was the huge backlog of facilities needs in the state. We think it's well over a billion dollars, there's at least one study that shows it to be around $800 million, but certainly it's much larger than that, because it was a partial study. You know, and some lawmakers have made attempts to to figure out ways to address that, so that local school districts don't have to rely on property, local property, taxpayers, to build new schools and that kind of thing. There should be a statewide effort to fund facilities to make sure that schools are equitable. Schools are well lit schools are dry and comfortable and safe for kids so that they have the most optimum learning environment. One bill came forward from from again, Senate Education Committee Chairman Dave lent would have changed the use of about $60 million from the state land endowments all across the state, the state land alone and state owned land across the state they pay into public schools. This This legislation would have shifted somewhat. Now it was just $61 million, compared to probably well over a billion dollars worth of things. But it was an effort to try to get something going.

Chris Parri:

And it was killed unceremoniously to. I think Matt knows a little bit more about the endowment funds and that thing.

Matt Compton:

So this is a product of a longer conversation that Senator that was part of, in the summer, where there was a subcommittee that was developed to talk about the burgeoning needs of schools, when it comes to facilities. So he, he drafted a piece of legislation that he thought could get some universal agreement didn't have a huge price tag that utilizes resources that the state is already taking in through the endowment fund. The endowment fund is supposed to be used to help support school funding. So mechanically, it sounded like it was the right thing to do. And unfortunately, once presented, the Senate committee killed his bill.

Mike Journee:

Yeah, and it looks like we're not going to be able to address facilities this session. I know, especially some of our our fellow education. Stakeholder groups, we're very interested in trying to find something happened, I think our members are very interested in having something happen as well. So it's unfortunate that that's not going to happen, especially when we got such a huge amount of surplus still looking at us in the face.

Matt Compton:

So I think this was the school board's Association's top or second most important legislative issue coming in at to see that one piece of legislation was drafted to address it. That's, that's pretty depressing. And like you said, sitting on top of like over a billion and a half dollars in surplus that that means we're not including increasing taxes. But this could be put forward to address all of the building needs, we would see a significant decrease in property taxes. We have, we're on the eve of an election here. And I think we've discussed this before. But schools are going out in in this March. And they're asking for the single largest investment in schools, whether it be through bonds and levies. This is a historic election for schools.

Mike Journee:

So on March 14, they're they're here coming up in a couple of weeks, or actually, about a week.

Chris Parri:

I mean, contrast, contrast the efforts by local communities across the state to get these bonds and levies done with the effort being put forward by the legislature this session. I mean, you know, I'll try not to yell about it. But it's very frustrating to see. So little work go into it after there was really there were really great presentations throughout the legislative session in the, you know, in multiple committees about the dire need to improve our facilities investments. And yeah, it's deeply frustrating. And now, again, local communities are going to ask to do the job that the legislature should have been doing for decades.

Matt Compton:

Yeah, instead of doing the serious work of funding schools, we've more used this legislative session to engage in unnecessary cultural wars.

Mike Journee:

The chronic underfunding of public education. And it touches on every issue that we've talked about this today on this podcast and every issue we've talked about in all the other previous episodes as well. So guys, thanks so much for your participation again today, and we'll see you next time.

Matt Compton:

Thanks, Mike.

Chris Parri:

Awesome. Thanks, Mike.

Mike Journee:

Thank you for listening to education Association's hotline podcast and this discussion about week seven of the 2023 Idaho legislature. Thanks as well to my colleagues Chris Perry, and Matt Compton for joining me. Please watch for future updates about new episodes on IE social media channels, or sign up for our hotline email on our website at IDEO. ea.org. I'm Mike journee. And as always, I hope you join me in thanking Idaho's public school educators for everything they do for our State students, families and public schools.