Statehouse roundup, 2.: Powerball gets reluctant support in committee

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Statehouse roundup, 2.: Powerball gets reluctant support in committee

An unenthusiastic House State Affairs Committee advanced House Bill 607 – which would allow the Idaho Lottery to stay in a growing, international Powerball compact. Education has skin in this game: Over the next decade, Powerball is expected to generate some $200 million in dividends, which go to public schools, the K-12 Bond Levy Equalization Fund, and the Permanent Building Fund, which finances state and campus capital projects.

Idaho’s stake in Powerball is no sure bet, however. The Powerball compact wants to expand beyond into the United Kingdom and Australia. The Legislature has to give the go-ahead in order for the Idaho Lottery to remain in this compact.

The issue is back this year, because Powerball’s expansion plans were delayed last summer. So it’s up to the 2022 Legislature to make the final decision.

Idaho School Boards Association Executive Director Misty Swanson said schools rely on their share of Powerball proceeds. Citing a recent state report – which drew rough estimates of the state’s multimillion-dollar school building backlog – Swanson said pulling out of Powerball will only worsen the issue at hand.

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Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, said she would like to debate the issue of a state-sponsored lottery independent of school funding considerations.

Rep. Bruce Skpa, said he was uneasy about the prospect of Idaho moving into an international compact. In my gut, I don’t like it.

Even the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jason Monks, R-Meridian, said he was opposed to gambling. But, he said, leaving Powerball won’t bring the Idaho Lottery to a standstill; other games would continue.

State Affairs took the unusual step of voting to send the bill to a floor without a recommendation. Typically, committees recommend a bill’s passage.

Parent grants bill heads to House

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The Empowering Parents Program would offer families up to $1,000 per student or $3,000 per household in federal money to cover educational expenses including laptops and speech-language therapy.

The program is based on the similarly built 2020 Strong Families, Strong Students grant program. And the success of Strong Families Strong Students warrants putting $50 million more toward family grants, advocates say.

The program would give families with an income of $60,000 or less first shot at the grants; then those who earn $75,000 or less annually; and then all families.

I have worked for many years to try and get additional resources to students who have the greatest need. We still have a funding formula that doesn’t acknowledge that, and we need to fix that still, said co-sponsor Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls. But this is a step in the direction of helping families close that gap for those students.

Empowering Parents would be a temporary program, unless it’s extended. It would give parents two years to spend funds, and the Legislature would have to pass a separate appropriations bill to fund it.

After lawmaker questions, but little pushback, Senate Bill 1255 passed the committee unanimously. It now heads to the House floor, the last legislative hurdle before the Governor could sign it into law.

Also in House Education: Lawmakers will rewrite a bill expanding scholarship eligibility for dual credit earners, to hedge against concerns that the bill could allow for nepotism.

Teacher incentive bill heads to Senate floor

If SB 1290 passes – and if lawmakers fund the program – teachers could receive money to pay off student loans, receive a master’s degree, or get a teaching endorsement in a new subject area. Incentives would max out at $1,500 the first year, and $4,500 in year four.

Unlike a similar bill, which Senate Education rejected in 2021, SB 1290 is not simply a student loan repayment bill. But the bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, noted that the average teacher enters the profession with $30,000 to $50,000 of student loan debt.

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