Idaho Education Association leaders are praising the bills passed during the 2022 legislative session, calling the session the best one in recent memory.
In a Monday news release, association President Layne McInelly thanked lawmakers for prioritizing “smart and badly needed education investments.”
“After two very difficult years, Idaho’s students, schools, and teachers deserved a break,” McInelly said in the release. “This slate of impressive legislative accomplishments is certainly a step in the right direction and could be the start of reversing decades of neglect of our public schools.”
Association members were pleased to see the Legislature approve an 11% increase in overall K-12 spending as well as a 7% increase in educator salaries with increased health insurance benefits.
The health insurance bill sets up a fund into which the state could appropriate $75.5 million to cover buy-in fees if every Idaho school district decided to join the state employee insurance plan.
Julie Nawrocki, the Idaho Falls Education Association president, said the health insurance bill was the best education-related action legislators took this year. State association members lobbied heavily for this bill in January because health insurance benefits were a large reason why educators were leaving the profession.
“The ability to get on the state insurance plan is life-changing for educators and it’s going to be huge for retaining as well as attracting quality educators which benefits our students,” Nawrocki said.
In addition to the health insurance bill, the Legislature also passed a bill that gives financial incentives for teachers in rural or high-need areas of the state and funded about $47 million in K-3 literacy programs, which some school districts can use to establish full-day kindergarten programs.
Other association-endorsed bills passed by the Legislature included expanding the pool of qualified mental health professionals that school districts can hire and a bill that provides dyslexia screening for students and training for educators.
Nawrocki said she feels the biggest contributor to the success of this year’s session compared to others was the collaboration that educators, legislators and community members displayed this year. There’s still work to go, but Nawrocki hopes this momentum can be sustained to continue helping students, she said.
“I think it was an amazing legislative session compared to what we’ve had in the last couple of years,” Nawrocki said. “Our students will win because of this.”
According to the association news release, more than 150 members directly lobbied lawmakers on education bills throughout the legislative session and hundreds of educators emailed and called to register their opinions on legislation. Nawrocki said Idaho Falls association members visited the Capitol twice to visit legislators.
“IEA members are the fiercest advocates for Idaho’s public schools and students,” state association Executive Director Paul Stark said in the release. “As our state’s most important and influential education experts, they collectively stepped up and played a huge role in making these legislative accomplishments possible. Their dedication to Idaho’s children and their dogged commitment to their profession and the essential principle.”
Nawrocki said the session was also a success because of the failure of other bills that she said would have harmed public education, including a school voucher bill that would have allowed taxpayer funds be passed to private schools and HB 666, which would have fined or jailed school librarians for allowing access to materials deemed “offensive.”
“I think (the library bill) would have really punished people with an open-ended definition of what’s harmful,” Nawrocki said.
The Legislature still has its sights aimed at libraries, as Idaho Senate Republicans and House GOP leaders agreed Friday to create a working group to study allegations from House Republicans that Idaho libraries are making explicit materials available to minors.
Giving explicit material to minors has been a crime in Idaho since 1972, but public libraries, museums and schools are exempted from that law, the Idaho Press reported.
The creation of the working group comes after the planned end of the legislative session stalled Friday, as the House twice defeated the proposed budget for the Idaho Commission for Libraries over these allegations. House members mostly took issue with books from the adult section of libraries, teen memoirs and coming-of-age novels with LGBTQ themes and youth sex education books for children over 10, calling these materials “pornography.”