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Independent Learners Bill and State Insurance Coverage for Idaho Teachers Both Pass Senate | News

BOISE — Senate Bill 1238, dealing with self-directed learning, and House Bill 443, providing state insurance coverage for Idaho teachers, were both approved by the Senate this week.

S 1238 encourages academically advanced students to pursue other opportunities in or outside the classroom through collaboration between parents, teachers, and the students themselves. All senators present voted in favor of the bill on Wednesday, February 2.

Idaho schools are facing management challenges this year due to the pandemic, and they are often looking for replacements for staff who cannot teach. Sen. Steven Thayn (R) was a substitute this year at a local school in his district and introduced S 1238 after observing the different levels of progress each student has.

“Let’s reward some of the motivated students… [S 1238] allows for more individualized learning, personalized learning,” he said.

The concept puts more emphasis on learning rather than sitting time. Students who demonstrate self-directed learning may qualify for this additional flexibility. Teachers are able to identify K-12 youth as “autonomous learners” through student effort and overall understanding of the information being taught.

Senator Thayn said students have several options outside of regular classes if they do well, including taking advanced courses, engaging in meaningful extracurricular activities or even having a part-time job.

“Whatever agreement they reach, the student, teacher and parent have to agree, so there are buffets about that,” Senator Thayn said.

As schools implement programs that provide opportunities outside of the classroom for students demonstrating a level of proficiency, this bill provides greater freedom to support students. This also helps mark these students as present for attendance, so schools can still receive attendance-based funding.

“That flexibility, I think, is really helpful for parents and for students, because they can meet the needs of students who don’t always fit the mold. Everyone has a different learning style and a different pace of learning,” said Senator Mary Souza (R).

During the vote, all senators present were in favor of the bill; Sen. David Nelson (D) offered support but added to Sen. Thayn’s mention of no tax impact when passing S 1238.

“I want to emphasize, I think when we ask our teachers to do more, there is a fiscal impact, and that asks our teachers to do more, to manage these self-directed learners.”

S 1238 will now go to the House of Representatives for a public hearing.

The Senate also passed House Bill 443, which seeks to provide Idaho teachers with the same medical and dental insurance coverage as state employees, if they choose to participate. The bill was approved by a vote of 32 to 3.

Idaho schools currently receive $8,400 per staff member for health insurance, and this bill would increase that rate to $12,500 per employee. However, the option to use offers from private insurers would still be available, should schools choose not to switch to the state plan.

This bill supports Gov. Brad Little’s broader plan to retain Idaho teachers and better support their efforts to provide quality K-12 education. Representatives and senators agree that this demonstrates an “appreciation” of the work of teachers, especially during the pandemic.

After passing the House and Senate, HB 443 will pass Governor Little this Thursday, February 10.