By Kevin Richert, IdahoEdNews.org
Originally posted on IdahoEdNews.org on January 31, 2023
A multimillion-dollar incentive program for high school graduates cleared its first big Statehouse hurdle Tuesday — but it wasn’t easy.
A deeply divided House Education Committee passed the Idaho Launch bill, on a 10-7 vote that suggests the bill could run into more trouble on the House floor or in the Senate.
One of Gov. Brad Little’s top education priorities for 2023, House Bill 24 would provide up to $8,500 for high school graduates who are looking to pursue in-demand careers. They could put the money towards a four-year degree, a two-year degree, career-technical education or workforce training.
“The easiest way to think of this is, think jobs, not diplomas,” said House Majority Leader Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett, the bill’s sponsor. She called HB 24 a grant program that would use taxpayer-support financial aid to target careers that grow the workforce.
HB 24 would provide $102 million for postsecondary aid: $80 million from a permanent, in-demand careers education fund, created during a one-day legislative session in September; and $22 million by phasing out existing scholarships, such as the Opportunity Scholarship, which provides need-based aid of up to $3,500 a year for four years.
House Education’s first big public hearing of the session drew a high-powered and overflow crowd. Several members of Little’s staff attended, as did Lt. Gov. Scott Bedke, state superintendent Debbie Critchfield and College of Western Idaho President Gordon Jones. Critchfield and Jones were among several speakers who urged the committee to pass HB 24.
Boise State University student body president Adam Jones also spoke in favor of the bill.
“This represents a commitment from the Idaho Legislature to improve Idaho’s dismal go-on rate,” he said.
Industry representatives also lined up in support.
“The labor shortage is a painful, difficult challenge for every Idaho employer every day,” said Deni Hoehne, a WinCo foods personnel executive who chairs the state Workforce Development Council, which would administer the Idaho Launch awards.
Anna Miller, education policy director for the Idaho Freedom Foundation, said HB 24 would drive up the cost of postsecondary education, while providing “a crony taxpayer handout to big business.”
Committee hardliners were just as adamant in their opposition. Rep. Tony Wisniewski, R-Post Falls, labeled the bill “pure socialism.” Rep. Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene, said HB 24 represented another government-supported program, not unlike public health care or free school lunches.
“It’s important to earn things,” Mendive said. “It means more to you.”
Reps. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, and Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, said they would prefer to see the state’s money go into building programs that can train students.
A bipartisan group of committee members — including committee Chair Julie Yamamoto, R-Caldwell — said the aid would bridge the affordability gap for many high school graduates who want to continue their education.
“These workers are going to build the economy,” said Rep. Lori McCann, R-Lewiston, the committee’s vice chairwoman. “We’re strong but have the opportunity to be stronger.”
HB 24 now goes to the House floor for a vote, perhaps later in the week.
Here’s Tuesday’s committee roll call:
Yes: Yamamoto; McCann; Reps. Steve Berch, D-Boise; Soñia Galaviz, D-Boise; Dan Garner, R-Clifton; Ted Hill, R-Eagle; Greg Lanting, R-Twin Falls; Chris Mathias, D-Boise; Jack Nelsen, R-Jerome; and Mark Sauter, R-Sandpoint.
No: Boyle; Clow; Mendive; Wisniewski; Reps. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls; Dale Hawkins, R-Fernwood; and Elaine Price, R-Coeur d’Alene.
Bill would eliminate March, August school elections
Another attempt to limit school bond and levy elections made its debut Tuesday.
House Bill 58 would eliminate March and August school elections, requiring schools to hold their bond and levy elections in May or November.
The House State Affairs Committee introduced the bill, sponsored by first-year Rep. Joe Alfieri, R-Coeur d’Alene.
Alfieri suggested that it’s dishonest for school districts to re-run ballot measures repeatedly, according to a full report on Tuesday’s State Affairs hearing from Clark Corbin of the Idaho Capital Sun.
“The real issue though, I think, is that what we have here is dishonesty toward the voters because you don’t get do-overs when you lose an election,” Alfieri said, according to Corbin’s report. “And I will tell you that having run for mayor in Coeur d’Alene and losing, I would have liked to have a do-over because I think I would have won that second election. But that’s not the point; I think it’s just wrong to do it.”
Alfieri’s bill is not a new idea. The House passed a similar bill in 2020, but it never passed the Senate. The House in 2021 passed a bill to eliminate the August election date, but it too stalled in the Senate.
Historically, March is by far the most popular election date for supplemental levies.
HB 58 could now come back to State Affairs for a full hearing at a later date.
Kevin Richert | Idaho Education News
Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on KIVI 6 On Your Side; Idaho Reports on Idaho Public Television; and Idaho Matters on Boise State Public Radio. He can be reached at email@example.com.