Working group formed to revamp school funding formula

An informal legislative “working group” will take on a complicated and time-consuming  effort: revamping Idaho’s public school funding formula.

News of the working group broke late Thursday afternoon, the 11th day of the 2016 legislative session. But it’s unlikely the group will produce any legislation this year.

The idea of revamping the state’s funding formula is not new. The current law, passed in 1994, has been tweaked several times. In 2013, Gov. Butch Otter’s education task force recommended dropping the current formula — based on students’ average daily attendance — and shifting to an enrollment-based model.

After two years, however, that discussion has given way to the idea of a more thorough review of the formula.

Wendy Horman
Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls

“The education landscape has changed, and our formula needs to be updated to fund new elements such as virtual education, the increasing mobility of our students, and the state’s move toward mastery-based education,” said Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, one of the working group’s co-chairs.

Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, will co-chair the group.

Other lawmakers on the working group are House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley; House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle; Senate Education Committee Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls; Senate Education Committee Vice Chair Steven Thayn, R-Emmett; House Education Committee Vice Chair Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree; and Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, a Senate Education Committee member.

Winder New
Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise

State superintendent Sherri Ybarra will also be on the group, along with representatives of Otter’s office and the State Board.

Here, in full, is the news release about the working group:

Senate President Pro Tempore Brent Hill and House Speaker Scott Bedke have convened an informal working group to consider an overhaul to the state’s public school funding formula. The group consists of Senator Dean Mortimer, Senator Steven Thayn, Senator Janie Ward-Engelking, Senator Chuck Winder, Speaker Scott Bedke, Representative Reed DeMordaunt, Representative Wendy Horman and Representative Julie VanOrden. Senator Winder and Representative Horman are co-chairing the effort. It is anticipated that a member of the State Board of Education, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra and the Governor’s office will also participate. Staff support is being provided by the Office of the State Board of Education, the State Department of Education, the Legislative Services Office and the Division of Financial Management.

“The education landscape has changed, and our formula needs to be updated to fund new elements such as virtual education, the increasing mobility of our students, and the state’s move toward mastery-based education,” said Representative Wendy Horman.

Senator Chuck Winder added, “If we keep making amendments to the current public schools funding formula, it becomes more and more difficult to maintain a state funding formula that provides the predictability and equity our districts need to budget and educate students.”

Both Horman and Winder agreed that this group provides the legislature with an opportunity to be directly involved and even lead in revamping the formula. The group’s first step will be to seek legislative approval for an interim committee, as well as develop a scope of work and timeline for the effort. There is no intent to submit overhaul legislation in the current legislative session as it is anticipated that the effort will last beyond the 2016 legislative interim.

Since its enactment in 1994 (S1560), the current public school funding formula has been amended several times to accommodate the needs of Idaho’s public education system.  In 2013, the Governor’s Task Force for Improving Education recommended a change to the public school funding formula from Average Daily Attendance (ADA) to Average Daily Enrollment/ Membership. The Task Force concluded this would “enhance fiscal stability and remove current barriers to personalized and/or mastery learning models that are required to meet the State Board’s 60 percent goal.”  

Over the past two years, the State Board of Education convened a Public School Funding Subcommittees of the Task Force to work on this specific recommendation.  The subcommittee concluded that the issue is more than funding based on attendance or enrollment, and the entire formula needs a thorough review. Subsequently, State Board staff met with the Governor’s office and legislative leadership to discuss next steps, leading to the informal working group.