SO MANY ISSUES...
SO LITTLE TIME
As the debate over the proposed funding formula reaches a crescendo, we believe the time has come to delay a decision until all of the remaining areas of concern can be addressed.
At a meeting of Southern Idaho Conference Superintendents last week, we developed a list of those remaining issues. It's a substantial record that includes some of the most important features of the proposal. These concerns relate to the most recent of the myriad versions of the bill, Senate Bill 1196, and the associated spreadsheet.
However, we feel that, before detailing the concerns, we need to thank the committee that put together the proposal. The members sought to address complex issues in education through weighting students, and that effort was admirable. In the end, though, the proposed formula sought to address other issues identified during the process that were never part of the initial discussions. Those concepts, like the wealth adjustment and the large district weight, were viewed by many as counter to the equity goal of the committee, and took a great deal of discussion that could have been devoted to other elements that still have not been adequately addressed, in our opinion.
Here are several of the biggest issues we identified.
The first two versions of the formula spreadsheet compared "apples to apples", by using 2017-18 data for both sides of the formula equation. Afterward, despite concerns expressed by State Department of Education officials and district Business Managers, the data presented were from 2017-18 for the old formula and 2018-19 for the new, with varying amounts of funding added to the new formula side of the equation.
In order to understand the reasons why the sides have to be equal, here are a couple of quotes from the Business Managers of two districts.
"In order to measure the effect of the formula on your school district, you need to compare the revenue generated under the old formula at a particular point in time with the revenue from the new formula at the same time. That’s the only way to determine if you are truly a winner or loser." Nancy Landon, CFO, Boise District
"While our district appreciates the extremely hard work of so many individuals over the last 3 1/2 years, there continues to be an inherent problem with the data used in the highly circulated excel spreadsheet that our legislators are relying upon for much of their upcoming decision making. We beseech the key state players to demand an apples to apples financial data comparison before any further legislative deliberations transpire. In the absence of this action, our legislators will be casting pivotal public policy votes based upon fraught data." Lisa Hals, CFO, Lake Pend O'reille District
We'd add to Lisa's statement that many Superintendents and Business Managers do not know where their districts stand. Here's an example of how different the data are, considering the two comparisons:
Here is the "apples to apples" version of the spreadsheet. To be sure, for some districts, the losses are smaller without the wealth adjustment, and that is a good thing. We know that, in building a new formula and starting from scratch, we will have winners and losers. However, it's important that legislators know where their districts stand at the time when the new formula is implemented.
For example, the spreadsheet that goes with the newest bill shows the Coeur d'Alene District gaining $3.9 million (7%), and Coeur d'Alene Charter gaining $200 thousand (4%). In an apples to apples comparison, they both lose. CDA District loses $560 thousand (1%), and CDA Charter loses $152 thousand (3%). Those aren't huge losses, but the totals are a lot different than are portrayed on the newest committee spreadsheet.
THE SMALL DISTRICT FACTOR APPLIED TO CHARTERS
We certainly are in favor of equitable funding for districts and charters. But with the wealth factor zeroed out in the spreadsheet, an apples to apples comparisons shows some steep funding inequities among districts and charters that exist in those districts under the proposed formula. This is a result of applying the "Small District" factor to charters, and, for example, treating Hagerman District in the Twin Falls area the same as Rolling Hills Charter in Boise.
Keep in mind that, in each case, the district cited has a higher percentage of Free/Reduced lunch, Special Ed, and Limited English kids.
In a few cases, the free/reduced lunch percentage nearly matches that of the district (Heritage Charter in Caldwell, STEM Charter in Lakeland, Taylor's Crossing in IF). But the FRL and LEP percentages are typically lower, as are many of the Special Ed percentages.
So since Charters were already funded statewide at a higher level than districts, the increased gap under the new formula is very concerning.
Demographic information are from a 2017 State Department of Education spreadsheet. NA means that there were too few students to report in the category.
CAREER LADDER AND SALARY-BASED APPORTIONMENT
This is an issue that was attended to in Chairman Clow's bill, which never got out of committee on the House side, even though he and others had worked with the stakeholders to address many issues. We need to identify the percentage of Salary and Benefit moneys in the formula, so we can annually address possible increases in teacher salary allocations. This is a crucial area for the stakeholders.
THE "ECONOMIC WEIGHT"
This is the old "Wealth Adjustment" by another name. Though it has been zeroed out in the spreadsheet, the language addressing it is still in the new bill, That language should be stricken from the law.
Again, the "stakeholder bill" that was defeated in House Ed included an index from compensating districts for teachers with more experience. In order to encourage districts retain teachers, this provision is very important.
ALTERNATIVE SCHOOL FUNDING
There is no provision for funding alternative schools in the new bill, seemingly at the behest of the ECS representative who advised the committee. Though there may be a need for a tweak or two to the funding mechanism for these schools, the funding should not just go away. Alternative schools graduate students who otherwise would have long odds for success in school. This is another very important area in the formula.
There are numerous other issues, such a the looming cliff for districts after the "hold harmless" provision ends, the questionable accuracy of much of the data in the spreadsheet being used to inform districts and legislators, the confusing nature of the language regarding the "Career Ladder" at the local level, and others.
However, these issues are enough, we think, for the decision on the funding formula to be delayed. This is a discussion about the largest portion of the state budget -- let's take our time and address the issues of concern, whether it's done in a task force or with a group of stakeholders who can address the key issues.