Tuesday, January 8, 2019


Unless you read Idaho Ed News regularly, you probably aren't aware that a brand new k-12 funding formula is being proposed, and will come to the Idaho Legislature this session.

The proposed new formula will put an end to the most successful idea to come from the Governor's Task Force, the popular Career Ladder. The Career Ladder has brought stability to the funding of salaries, provided evaluative accountability, funded over 10% in increased salaries for teachers, and valued education levels of teaching staffs across the state. Instead, the Career Ladder moneys will be folded into the new formula, and the language associated with the Ladder will pertain to a "Local Career Ladder", which means it will apply to local district salary schedules.

One of the most important charges given to the Funding Formula Committee was to "transition the Idaho public school funding formula from a resource allocation funding formula to a student-centered funding formula that includes a base funding amount per student with weights added thereto for special populations".

When the process began, we heard that exactly that was to happen - the advisors to the committee, Marguerite Rosa and Michael Griffith, recommended weighted counts for special populations - in the first version of the formula, Special Ed students were weighted at 1.5, ELL students at 1.35, and Free/Reduced lunch qualifiers at 1.25. The most recent versions of the formula have gone far afield from the original charge given to the committee.

Let's fill in a bit of the backstory - how we got here.


The current formula was developed in 1995, as a compromise to "distribute" funding more or less fairly among districts, using property taxes collected across the state. Those property taxes were then equalized for demography and distributed among districts. That all changed in 2006, when then Governor Risch convened a one-day legislative session and changed the source of funding to the sales tax and some other sources. At the time, the legislature promised to  fully fund k-12 education. However, because sales tax revenues are more unpredictable than are property taxes, schools suffered a dramatic blow during the Great Recession, and still have not totally recovered.


Charters entered the discussion in 1998, when the legislature passed a law permitting them. At first their growth was capped, but State Superintendent Luna sponsored legislation to lift the cap, and charter growth accelerated, assisted by an arm of the Albertson Foundation called BLUUM, which is dedicated to rapid expansion of charters (their goal is 20,000 charter seats in 10 years.) Of course, the pie can only be sliced so many ways, so the addition of over 50 "Local Education Agencies" (charters) has negatively affected school funding in Idaho.

Charters in Idaho were funded on average at a higher rate in 2017-18  than were public schools:

Charter schools cannot run bonds or levies to build buildings or add programs, and some of their additional funding is intended to help with building costs.

However, school districts, as entities headed by representative elected boards, can and do run levies, which in most cases require a simple majority for passage. In 2012, for example, Boise ran a levy to maintain class size as we reached a funding crisis because of the recession. That levy passed with 76%  "yes" votes, and the District used the funds to manage the crisis.

Levies are made against property tax values, and so are much more difficult in districts that are property tax poor, and lack significant industry. So it costs the individual taxpayer almost $9  more per $100,000 property in Bear Lake than it does in Pocatello for a levy. 

Levies are typically good for 2 years, though several districts can run them for longer periods, and Boise's charter allows for a permanent levy. One reason, then, that levies are precarious for districts is that many districts are funding ongoing expenses with 2-year levies. That's not a good business practice, but the districts are desperately trying to fund critical programs and teacher salaries.

However, because of the paucity of state funding for schools in Idaho, more than 90 districts currently have levies, which raise their expenditures per student. With the passage of local levies across the state, funding for school districts has become more and more uneven. In the new funding formula, as you will see, the committee has advocated a a solution in which money is taken from  from property rich districts (whether or not they have a large levy), and given to property poor districts (no matter the local effort they make).

In Part 2, we will take a look at the elements of the proposed formula.