Monday, January 28, 2019



Shortly before winter break, Boise District officials met with legislators to preview our priorities for the 2019 legislative session. At one point, we began to speak about our goal of keeping the Career Ladder in place so that we would have a reliable, consistent source of funding with which to increase teacher salaries.

Then came the question: "Why should we provide more money for salaries when there has been no progress on student achievement?"

We responded that the scores on the SBAC have remained flat across the multi-state consortium, and that perhaps that says more about the test than about student achievement. In fact, in various locations, educators and politicians have called for an end to statewide standardized testing, and critics have argued that the test itself is broken, while SBAC promoters argue that the test is valid. High opt-out rates have become more and more common, as parents and students question the value of the tests.

From the back of the room came the muttered comment, "Excuses, excuses. All we hear are excuses."

There ensued a discussion of what the test scores mean and why they should/should not be used as an indicator for teacher pay raises. The discussion continued around the topics of "achievement" and "growth" measures associated with the test, and that neither show evidence of progress.


One problem with the standardized testing we do in Idaho and in other states is that there is no way to show a meaningful comparison that people understand. When we say that 56% of students were proficient last year and 58% are this year, it really doesn't tell us much about what improvement was made, no matter the subject. To do so, we have to be more specific, and give examples. But for the SBAC, neither teachers nor administrators are allowed to see the questions that are asked of our students.

The Boise District has given "End of Course" examinations, which are really "common finals" to students since 2001. They typically count as 10% of the student's semester grade and give us a gauge of how effectively the curriculum was taught and learned.

But the "EOC" tests also allow us to examine performance across the district or by school on individual items or content areas on a particular test. For years, we have used the assessments to decide on curricular modifications, areas that need more focus, or areas that are covered very well in a particular course.

But what we have never done in the past is to use "Pre/Post" assessments to ascertain the progress made by students on course content. This winter/spring semester, we will do so, giving U.S History 11 assessments to students in Caldwell, Vallivue, Kuna, and Boise to see what kind of progress our kids are making on learning important concepts.


We already know how our kids are doing on final EOC tests in a number of areas. Here are some examples from EOC's given at the end of the first semester in December, 2018.

From the US History 11, Semester 1 Exam:

Certainly, we want our students to know the effect of the Jim Crow laws that emerged following the Civil War. And on the final exam  in the first semester of U.S History, 87% of students correctly answered this question.

This example is from the General Biology first semester end of course exam. In  this case, 90% of students correctly answered "b.". 


As we noted above, we have not previously done a pre/post test with our EOC's, so we are happy to join with several other districts to show the progress our students make.

This also gives us a chance to look at the questions on our test and see if there are some that show us high levels of previous learning. When we pre-tested the U.S. History 11 second semester EOC, we found that there were a few questions in this category.

On the pretest for US History 11, second semester, 78% of students correctly answered "c" for this question. Incorrect answers were spread among the three alternatives relatively evenly. It was gratifying to see that so many students possessed at least some prior knowledge in this area.

Seventy percent (70%) of students correctly answered "a"  for this question about the confrontation that had the world on edge in 1962. Not bad for the pretest.

For most questions, much smaller percentages of students could correctly answer the pretest questions, as you might expect. For example, only 23% of students answered the following question correctly ("a"), and the largest percentage of kids thought that "c" was the right choice. We thought more students might know this one, as the images from Kent State are seared in our memories, but obviously students need some background on this era.

 And, on a question to which 60's music aficionados would think everyone should know:

fewer than half (47%) knew the name of the concert at Yasgur's Farm.

So this will be our first try at measuring student growth on an end of course examination. We will report back at the end of the semester on the progress our students have made on the content of US History 11. As we see meaningful results, we'll look at expanding our use of pre-post on our end of course exams.

Friday, January 11, 2019


In 2016, Idaho's per-pupil expenditures were $7157, 49th in the nation, according to Census data reported in the website The national average per pupil expenditure was reported as  $11,762 per student. 

And yet, the new proposed funding formula shifts funding among districts and creates winners and losers, instead of looking to improve the lot of all stakeholders. We believe that this approach will produce chaotic results as we move forward.

The new proposed formula throws out the most successful educational approach of the past two decades, the Career Ladder, which was championed by Governor Otter and recommended by the k-12 Education Task Force as one of its key goals.

So, let's take a look at an alternative model that allows us to keep the Career Ladder and integrate some weighted factors which would allow us to implement some differential pay for teachers in high-poverty environments, or who teach special populations.

In this view of the funding formula, Continuous Improvement Planning drives the actions (spokes of the wheel) of districts across the state, as it should. We recommend:
  • Keep the Career Ladder and Salary-Based Apportionment, which serve as the base distribution mechanism for salaries, leadership advanced opportunities, and the like.
  • Use "Student-based" factors (weights) to provide additional funding for teachers who work with challenged populations of students.
  • Keep Technology and CTE funding as separate high priorities.
  • Use student performance indicators to evaluate the success of the Improvement Plan.
This system is:
  • Purposeful - all parts of the formula support the Strategic Plan
  • Intentional - each part of the formula is designed to produce desired results in the Strategic Plan
  • Meaningful - the elements of the formula have meaning to the stakeholders
  • Agile - elements of the formula can be adjusted to meet shifting needs 
  • Flexible - control of the formula elements is left at the district level whenever possible
  • Transparent - all are aware of how funds are allocated and the purpose for the allocation.
Governor Little recently proposed a second Governor's Task Force to evaluate the accomplishments of the first and look toward the future. We'd suggest that the proposed funding formula and alternatives be considered by the Task Force, as well. We believe this alternative plan would get us down the road toward the Funding Formula Committee's equity goals while looking at improving the lot of all district and charters in the state in terms of teacher's salaries.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019



Here are the School District and Charter losers in the new formula, using 17-18 information for the old distribution system and 17-18 data for the new. Whereas we looked at the "wealth" adjustment in the Part 2 of this series, these numbers are the "apples to apples" comparison of 17-18 data for the current formula and the "new" proposed formula. They do not include the 2018-19 wealth adjustment data, or West Ada would be on the list.

Here are the Charter Schools that lose in the proposed new formula:

There are 83 school districts and charters that would take a loss in the implementation of the new formula. Since 80-85% of each district's expenditures typically are sunk into staffing, we calculated the loss in terms of teachers at $50k per teacher, and came up with a loss of 531 teachers.

Obviously, some losses are substantial, and some less impactful. Clearly, though, the move to the new formula would affect a number of districts and charters.

What's really concerning, though, is that the demographics of the schools and districts that lose funding are all over the board. Bliss for example, is a small district with 82% free/reduced lunch, Clark County has 72% FRL, American Falls 64%, Valley 64%, and Culdesac 62%. On the other end of the spectrum, Compass, Sage, Meridian Technical, and CDA Charters all have FRL %ages under 20%, Genesee is at 23% and Troy is at 21%. So certainly the demographics of the students are not driving funding in this proposed formula.


On the flip side, Bonneville School District gains about $3.6 million (5.1%) in the new formula, and Caldwell gains $2.9 million (7.9%). Caldwell certainly has a high percentage of free/reduced lunch, at over 80%, but Bonneville, at 39%, is about the same as Lakeland, Teton, Sugar-Salem, New Plymouth, and Fruitland, which all lose funding. 

Of the ten biggest percentage gainers in the formula, eight are charters. The two districts in the grouping are Lapwai and Plummer/Worley, which have 90+% free/reduced. The charters are Chief Tahgee (Fort Hall) (80+%), The Village (Boise) (19%), Monticello Montessori (Pocatello) (15%), Gem Prep (Nampa and Pocatello) (na), North Valley (Gooding) (58%), Bingham Academy (Pocatello), (40%) and Palouse Prairie (Moscow) (30%).


All in all, this is a very complicated formula, and it's difficult to tell which factors are contributing the most to the status of winners and losers. But we understand the conundrum caused by using mathematical algorithms to determine funding in a state like Idaho.

  • When you just use free/reduced  factor, you get:
    • low poverty levels in a few districts, like Bonneville, West Ada, Lewiston, Soda Springs, and most charters
    • high poverty in Districts such as Lapwai, Plummer/Worley, Caldwell, Vallivue, and Nampa
    • urban poverty in Boise, Idaho Falls, and Pocatello
    • rural poverty over much of the state
  • When you use ELL (you should use Limited English), you get:
    • rural Latino concentrations over much of the state
    • urban Latino concentrations in many towns and cities
    • urban refugee populations in Boise, West Ada, and Twin Falls
    • very few ELL/LEP students in northern Idaho and some parts of eastern Idaho
  • The small district factor, when applied to charters:
    • covers for the lack of diversity in most charters
    • belies the original intent of the factor and hurts small rural districts
    • does not cover for the lack of diversity in large charters such as Sage and Thomas Jefferson
  • The Remote School weight accounts for the costs that consolidated county districts incur in serving remote schools within the county.
  • The wealth factor distributes wealth as if it were an equalizing factor, without the levy funds that were equalized prior to 2006, thus distributing funds from locally authorized levies across the state.
  • The Large district factor attempts to account for some of the costs of running a district with more than 20,000 students. There are only two of those in the state - Boise and West Ada.


In Part 4 of this series, we will provide an alternative idea, one that allows us to dip our toe into the "weighting" process, while staying out of the proposed zero sum game where over half the districts and charters in the state lose revenue.


Though the Funding Formula Committee has been meeting for three years, according to the chair, the first version of the new formula came out only a couple of months ago. Upon seeing that there were significant winners and losers in the proposal, the Idaho Association of School Boards (ISBA), The Idaho Association of School Administrators (IASA), the Idaho Education Association, and the Superintendents of the Southern Idaho Conference all spoke to the need to keep the Salary Distribution Formula legislation and the Career Ladder out of the new formula, at least until we could see how it worked.

Thus far, the Funding Committee Chair has insisted that the majority of the money currently funding schools be included in the new Funding Formula, against the wishes of united education stakeholders. So, let's have a look at the important elements of  the proposed new formula. Fair warning: though the formula authors promote it as being simple and transparent, it is neither.

Further, after presenting "apples to apples" (17-18  old formula vs. 17-18 new formula) comparisons in the first two versions of the formula, the committee changed the comparison to 17-18 old formula vs. 18-19 new formula, therefore moving to an "apples vs. oranges" format, and making many more "winners" because of the $87 million increase in funding for k-12 education in 2018-19.

Here is a  a link to the valid comparison, between 17-18 old formula and 17-18 new formula.


The idea of the new formula, at least initially, was to fund students and not classroom units, and to weight students based on particular characteristics. So a student who qualified for free/reduced lunch was weighted at 1.25, an English Language Learner at 1.35, and a Special Education student at 1.5. Gifted and Talented students received a lesser credit, as well.

Originally, this was to be the primary purpose of the new formula, and it was what we heard about at our meetings with the Education Commission of the States representative, and from Marguerite Rosa, the Georgetown professor and funding expert who visited with various education leaders in the state.

Though we knew that there would be winners and losers in this arrangement unless additional funds were pumped into funding, we did understand the logic of the changes, since students with the characteristics described above often require more resources to effectively teach.

But we also knew that a formula with these factors would clobber Charter schools, which have many fewer students with any of the 3 characteristics, and have long been the subject of criticism because they are not at all diverse. Indeed, using just those factors, most charters took major funding hits. So in the most recent version of the formula, poverty (free/reduced lunch percentage) and ELL (Limited English) are minimized initially, and the Small District factor plays a large role.


There's an obscure piece of the current funding formula which was meant to help tiny districts which don't have enough students to even fill particular grades. They have for years been given help because they have particular fixed costs which have to be met, and they are isolated with no way to consolidate with another entity.

In the the proposed funding formula, the "small district" factor is applied to almost very charter school in the state, even though the purpose of the factor never was to help schools with full grade levels and "waiting lists". 

It's sort of a square peg in a round hole solution, but it serves to provide a windfall to charters who have not from the beginning been as diverse as public schools . Each and every charter that meets the requirements of this factor reaps big bucks. It's no wonder BLUUM Executive Director Terry Ryan came out in favor of the formula and chided educators who oppose it.

Here's an example of why charters and true "small districts" are not the same.

Small rural districts such as Bliss and Salmon River have always been given some benefit because they have fewer than a "full class" at each grade level; Rolling Hills and Legacy are typical smaller charters, and have full classes at each grade level.

Even with a recent "tweak" to their status, small rural districts are losers in the proposed formula and smaller charters make gains. But they are not similar in any way, including demographically, where small districts are usually economically diverse and charters are typically not.

There are some large charters (Sage, Coeur d'Alene, and North Star, for example) that do not qualify for the "Small District" factor. They do not fare well in the proposed formula, as you will see.


With this factor, known jokingly as the "Robin Hood" weight, the formula takes from the "rich" and rewards "poor" districts, even though all but a few of Idaho school districts are funded well below the national average. 

Whether or not the districts in question have an ongoing levy, the "wealth factor" uses property values to assess a penalty to districts which meet the wealth criteria and provides a bonus to those that don't. The biggest losers here are the property rich areas of the state - Ada County, Kootenai County (Coeur d'Alene, Lakeland, Post Falls), and Lake Pend O'reille (Sandpoint), Teton County, and others, which essentially donate to other areas of the state.

But since the wealth factor relies on property values rather than poverty among students, we get some odd winners and losers in the overall formula. Here are a few of the anomalies:

Some of the issues with the wealth adjustment are:

  • Disparity from Student Poverty Levels - Districts with similar free/reduced lunch percentages are penalized or given a bonus, because of the available "wealth" in those districts in the form of property value. But the real indicator of wealth or poverty is the status of the students in the district. No one thinks of Bliss or American Falls as "wealthy" districts, because 64% and 82% of their students meet qualification criteria for free/reduced lunch, but neither district qualifies for the wealth adjustment because of their market values.
  • Rapid Market Value Growth Leads to Revenue Loss 
    • The formula is pretty simple, really; market value divided by student enrollment in a given school district, compared with the average in the state. So, a particular school district which in the current proposed formula gets a wealth adjustment but is ripe for rapid market value growth (Twin Falls, Nampa, West Ada, Kuna, Vallivue, Middleton, Post Falls, for example) would see the wealth adjustment go from being a positive to a negative in just a few years
    • We can see an example of this phenomenon just by updating the data in the spreadsheet presented to the committee to 2018-19 numbers. West Ada's market value has grown by an astonishing $4.7 billion since 2016-17, an annual rate of increase of about 14%. The district's enrollment has grown rapidly as well, but at a lower rate. As a result, West Ada will fall out of qualification if the new formula is approved, and instead of losing about $880k overall, will lose $10.4 million dollars in ongoing funds! To put it into perspective, $880k is equivalent to about 18 teachers; $10.4m is equivalent to about 210 teachers.
  • Districts just above or below qualification for the Wealth Adjustment may "yo-yo" back and forth, getting it one year and the losing it the next. For these districts, gains in Market Value or fluctuations in enrollment could cause nightmares for budgeting, because they will gain or lose depending on the fluctuations. Districts in the most precarious position for this phenomenon include small districts like Buhl, Hansen, Murtaugh, Kamiah, Castleford, Wilder, Potlatch, Troy, and Kellogg, and larger districts such as Post Falls and West Ada.

In Part 3 of this series, we will take a look at the overall losers in the proposed formula, and compare SES for those districts to some of the "winners". In Part 4, we will suggest an alternative to the committee's proposal.

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.