Idaho K-12: Uncle Sam’s funding role

Idaho schools landed on an unenviable Top 5 list this week.

The Pew Charitable Trusts ranked Idaho among the five states most vulnerable to mandatory federal budget cuts — better known in the political vernacular as “sequestration.”

Joining Idaho on this list were Mississippi, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota. (Here’s a local story on the Pew rankings from Boise State Public Radio’s Adam Cotterell.)

So how did Idaho end up on the rankings — and what does it really mean?

It is, in essence, a snapshot.

Pew Charitable Trusts looked at 2009-10 figures from the National Center for Education Statistics, the most recent statistics available.

Idaho collected $462.9 million from Uncle Sam in 2009-10 — 20.8 percent of its overall K-12 budget. The national average was 12.7 percent.

On Tuesday, the Idaho Department of Education labeled this one-year snapshot an anomaly.

In 2009-10, during the height of the Great Recession, Idaho’s K-12 budget was heavily propped up by federal stimulus dollars. That’s true, though hardly unique to Idaho.

Perhaps more to the point, Education Department spokeswoman Melissa McGrath ran the numbers for the two budget years preceding 2009-10, and the two following 2009-10.

  • Fiscal Year 2007-08: 9.9 percent.
  • FY 2008-09: 10.2 percent.
  • FY 2010-11: 14 percent.
  • FY 2011-12: 13.4 percent.

For 2012-13 — the current state budget year, ending June 30 — Uncle Sam accounts for 14 percent of K-12 spending. The proposed 2013-14, passed by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee Monday, counts on the feds for 13.5 percent of the K-12 budget.

All of these numbers underscore the state Education Department’s main point: The 2009-10 budget year was an outlier. But anyone who remembers the 2009 legislative session, and a budgeting process that was defined by the recession and the federal stimulus law, well remembers that this was an unusual session.

There is no question that sequestration could affect a number of Idaho education programs — such as Title I and special education — although the Education Department doesn’t expect the cuts to kick in before the 2013-14 budget year. But the net effects may not be as dire as the Pew report would indicate.

More reading: For more about “sequestration,” and its potential effects on Idaho schools, here’s my story from last week.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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