School funding committee wants more time to work



The legislative committee that is looking at revamping the way Idaho funds its public K-12 schools decided Monday to recommend moving forward with changing the state’s funding formula, but bills implementing the specific changes likely won’t be forthcoming in the 2018 legislative session.

Instead the committee’s draft resolution calls on the Legislature to reauthorize the committee and create a new advisory group to help with the details.

After its Monday meeting in Boise, the Public School Funding Formula Committee agreed on a draft that calls on the state to stick to the “career ladder” plan to boost teacher pay. Lawmakers will discuss paying for the fourth year of the five-year plan when they reconvene in January. The committee also wants the state to switch from the current school funding model, which is based on an attendance average, to a “student-based formula.” A student-based formula would start with funding based on the number of students enrolled in a school and add additional weighted funding based on factors such as the number of students in poverty, special-needs students and students learning English, said committee Co-Chairwoman Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls.

Idaho spends about $1.7 billion a year on public schools, roughly half of the state’s general fund spending. Idaho has traditionally been at or near the bottom in per-pupil spending — a National Education Association report earlier this year estimated Idaho’s per pupil spending in 2017 based on average daily attendance at $6,916, or $19 a year ahead of Utah. Using fall enrollment, Idaho came in last at $6,515 per pupil.

Idaho’s school funding formula was last updated in the early 1990s, and Idaho is one of just a handful of states that still uses a “resource allocation model,” Horman said. She said the new model being discussed would give districts more flexibility in deciding how to spend the money they get from the state, rather than earmarking much of it for specific needs as happens under the current formula.

“What we really want to do is shift those decisions down to the local districts, where we think it’s more appropriate,” she said. “They know where we need the funds.”

The resolution calls on the Legislature to reauthorize the funding formula committee to complete its study and make further recommendations and create a non-legislative technical advisory committee to advise the legislative committee on how to implement any changes. Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, who is on the funding formula committee and also heads the Senate Education Committee, said a resolution implementing this may be the only legislation on this topic to come forth in 2018.

“I believe that the resolution will say something to the effect of we want to go from an average daily attendance model to an enrollment model, and that enrollment model will have to take into account full-time students, part-time students, more than full-time students,” he said, and put “different weights to an enrollment model based on certain factors.”

The committee also has been discussing whether to change the timing and allocation of the state’s payments to districts. Currently the districts get half their state money in August based on the previous year’s enrollment, with smaller amounts following in November, February and May plus a cleanup payment at the end of the fiscal year in July, Horman said.

Horman said the committee wants to make sure it understands how changing the schedule would impact schools. She gave the example of the Sugar-Salem School District, which makes its bond payment in September now since it gets a state payment in August.

“There are unique circumstances in every school district and charter (school) that would be impacted by the timing of the payments,” Horman said.

It hasn’t yet been set when or whether the committee will meet again, Mortimer said. Horman said she expects the committee to hold a short meeting in January, early in the legislative session, to discuss the draft resolution and how to move forward.

Sen. Jamie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, said she supports the recommendations but was frustrated with the slow pace.

“We need solutions for our kids, not more resolutions,” she said in a statement. “The way we fund our schools is broken. Communities are being forced to vote on a record number of supplemental levies that aren’t supplemental at all — they’re needed just to keep the doors open. We have a responsibility to provide a quality education to all of our children.”

Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City, the other Democrat on the committee and a teacher, said the state needs to continue to focus on teacher pay.

“We have a crisis in this state in recruiting and retaining quality teachers for our classrooms,” he said. “We can change how we fund schools all we want, but if we aren’t competitive in how we pay our teachers, it won’t matter. All of our efforts to improve education in Idaho will be for naught if we don’t have good teachers.”

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757.