Idaho House narrowly OKs rural schools network bill

By Kimberlee Kruesi, Associated Press | Posted - Mar. 7, 2017 at 1:50 p.m.



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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A bill backed by Idaho's top schools chief to develop a new rural schools network narrowly survived the House floor on Monday, despite facing resistance from the state's top budget writers.

House members debated at length on the proposal to form a three-year pilot project in which rural schools would collaborate and share resources. The pilot project would be based in northern Idaho.

"It's an opportunity for us to be efficient with our services," said Rep. Paul Amador, R-Coeur d'Alene, the bill's sponsor.

This is the second year Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra has attempted to pass this proposal in the Idaho Legislature. Ybarra says the pilot program is needed because the majority of Idaho's public school districts are in rural regions. This year's version would have the state create the framework of the program, but the majority of the details of how the pilot would work would be left to school officials.

However, clearing the House is only part of the battle. The proposal comes with a $300,000 annual price tag that has not yet been allocated by the state's budget-setting Joint Finance Appropriations Committee.

The panel has already set the budgets for public schools and the superintendent's office. Originally, Ybarra requested lawmakers to add a new line item to the public schools budget to pay for her project, but she later asked the Legislature to fund it from her own superintendent's office. It's unknown when or if the budget panel will funnel any state funds to the project because the proposal has not yet been promised to receive a legislative hearing in the Senate.

"I believe this is an additional layer of bureaucracy in the education space that I believe Idaho does not need at this time," said Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, who oversees writing the state's education budget.

Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, the finance committee's co-chair, also voted against the measure.

HB 223 passed the House 37-33. It must now pass the Senate.

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Kimberlee Kruesi

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