After much debate, the Senate has passed HB 374, House Education Chairman Bob Nonini’s virtual education bill, on a 23-9 vote. Sen. Dick Sagness, D-Pocatello, charged that the bill was part of a deal with the House, and if the Senate didn’t go along with it, the House would kill the Senate-amended HB 303a, depriving schools of flexibility with some of their funds during the coming year’s budget crunch. Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, told the Senate there was “no negative quid pro quo,” and senators were free to vote their conscience.
Senate Assistant Majority Leader Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, debated against the bill, which removes a “sunset” clause or expiration from the earlier bill, HB 303a, to make the virtual education funding piece in that bill expire in two years. “The sunset was a good idea when it went in place, I see no value to the system to remove it at this time,” Stegner said, saying it would prompt an evaluation of the program. Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, said she feared the bill would encourage cash-strapped school districts to let teachers go and just “park some of those kids in front of a computer.” The bill encourages school districts to offer online classes, and lets them use funding that otherwise would go to hire teachers. “This is not intended to hurt teachers,” Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, the bill’s Senate sponsor, told the Senate. “This is intended to provide one more tool for our educators to use in teaching our children, and a two-year sunset just does not need to be there.”