BOISE State lawmakers say they're listening to Idahoans much closer this year when drafting new legislation dealing with education reform.

The approach this session has been tweaked to give people a stronger voice, and lawmakers are creating smaller bills to address specific issues.

When it comes to education you don't need to look any further than two listening sessions that packed a Statehouse auditorium to know that Idahoans want a say on this issue. Hundreds turned out to testify before the House and Senate Education Committees.

So are lawmakers listening?

We're trying to, people said some different things, so we're trying to listen, said Sen. Steve Thayn, R-Emmett.

The House and the Senate Education Committees are each moving forward with bills that are more immediate in nature, rather than broad school reform.

The Idaho School Boards Association has brought forward legislation in the House.

They would like to have negotiations in open public meetings, is one of the key pieces of legislation they have, said Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle.

Other bills in the Senate address putting a cap on classroom size.

Thayn says that s a great idea, but might not be possible because it would cost Idaho between $30 and $50 million, money that's hard to come by.

Another bill to consolidate school districts might get more discussion.

Some issues like tenure, there hasn't been a bill introduced. We're not going to touch that issue, said Thayn.

The plan is to leave that and major reform issues to the governor's task force.

If there is a technology bill it will be more of a block grant where we give the school districts the money, they can decide how to spend it, said Thayn.

The Idaho Education Association has brought legislation forward as well.

One thing that I learned from November is, they didn't like the process, said Thayn. So that's one reason we're doing single issue bills, we're dealing with specifically helping the school districts be whole on their budgets.

Most of the education bills are still early in the process, but Thayn likes where they are going.

I think we're coming to more of an agreement that we had two years ago, he said.

One major issue that lawmakers need to address this year is what to do with $30 million that was sent back to them after voters rejected the Students Come First laws.

That money will go back out to districts this school year to help them balance their budgets.

Lawmakers still want to hear from constituents on the education bills. There will be more public hearings during the legislative session.

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