Idaho Legislature passes House Bill 1 to fund education in special legislative session

Photo courtesy of Boise State Public Radio

On Sep. 1, the Idaho Legislature passed House Bill 1 during a special session called by Gov. Brad Little to address the state’s projected record-breaking budget surplus of roughly $2 billion. 

The session’s goal was to target the impacts that inflation has recently had on Idahoans by providing tax cuts and funding for education within the state. House Bill 1 was the only item set on the agenda for the special session. 

“We’re calling an extraordinary session to address the crushing impacts of historic inflation on Idaho families and schools,” Gov. Little said in a press release. “The cost of basic fundamentals to live everyday life has skyrocketed, and schools are faced with the burden of rising operating costs.”

House Bill 1 has two areas of focus — tax relief and education funding. In terms of tax relief, the bill directly spends $500 million to fund tax rebates for Idaho residents who filed taxes in 2020. Individuals will receive a minimum of $300 in rebates, or $600 if filing jointly. 

The bill also increases funding for public education by budgeting an additional $330 million per year for K-12 public schools, and another $80 million for higher education. This is especially needed as Idaho currently ranks last out of all U.S. states in per pupil spending, according to the Education Data Initiative.

While the bill was bipartisan, there were still a handful of legislators who were adamantly against the passage of the bill.

“I do not believe that our schools need another dime until we stop teaching critical race theory,”  Rep. Heather Scott said during the session. “Until we remove the explicit sexual content from our libraries and the books in our libraries, I don’t feel comfortable giving any more money.”

The bill was debated on the House floor for roughly two hours before it was finally passed in a 55-15 vote. Within the same day, the bill moved to the Senate, where it passed 34-1. 

[The Idaho Legislature gathers for a special session called by Gov. Brad Little.]
Photo courtesy of Boise State Public Radio

The House Bill was written in such a way that, while it has now been completely passed, it will not take effect until Jan. 3, 2023. 

Reclaim Idaho, an Idaho-based grassroots organization, previously obtained enough signatures to get the Quality Education Act onto the November 2022 ballot. The Quality Education Act is very similar to House Bill 1 in many aspects, and Reclaim Idaho co-founder Luke Mayville believes that this bill “would never have happened” if it weren’t for their work on the Quality Education Act.

The Quality Education Act aimed to increase funding to K-12 education by $323 million, with the key difference from House Bill 1 being that the Quality Education Act was funded through restoring the corporate income tax to 8%, while the Legislature lowered it to 5.6%. 

“This speaks to why the governor called the sessions [and] to the likely motivations of the conservative Republicans in the legislature,” Mayville said. “[The Quality Education Act] includes tax provisions that Little and his allies don’t support, so he wanted to avoid that entire confrontation while also being able to take credit for an education funding increase.”

Reclaim Idaho made the executive decision on Sep. 6 to officially remove the Quality Education Act from the November ballot. 

“Even if the initiative were [to pass] it would be repealed almost immediately because there’s a provision in House Bill 1 that would repeal our initiative if it were to go through,” Mayville said. “So we can’t say with confidence to voters or to volunteers or donors or anyone else that this initiative will actually increase funding for education, even if you vote for it.”

Mayville expressed that the Reclaim Idaho team is calling House Bill 1 a success for education in Idaho, despite them having to remove the Quality Education Act from the ballot this year.

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