National report paints a grim picture of Idaho K-12 spending

In 2014-15, Idaho per-pupil spending grew at one of the fastest rates in the nation, according to a federal study released this week.

That’s the one sliver of good news in an otherwise sobering study.

Idaho spent $6,899 per pupil in 2014-15, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education. And while per-pupil spending increased by 2.8 percent nationally, when adjusted for inflation, Idaho’s spending climbed by 4.1 percent. Only six states recorded a larger percentage increase.

The NCES numbers are, of course, three years old. And they reflect budget decisions of the 2014 Legislature, which approved a 5.1 percent spending increase. Public school budget increases have been more robust in recent years, as lawmakers seek to backfill budgets cut during the Great Recession. And on Monday, Gov. Butch Otter proposed a 6 percent increase for K-12 in 2018-19.

But the NCES numbers offer a snapshot of where Idaho stands nationally. It’s a grim picture:

  • Nationally, per-pupil spending averaged $11,454 for 2014-15. In other words, Idaho spent 60 cents for every dollar spent nationally.
  • Only one state spent less money per-pupil than Idaho: Utah, at $6,751. That news isn’t too surprising. Idaho and Utah perennially swap the bottom rankings in national reports on school spending.
  • Idaho has a long way to go to catch the next state on the current rankings. Arizona spent $7,590 per pupil in 2014-15. To reach that spending level, based on current enrollment of roughly 300,000 students, Idaho would need to add more than $200 million to its K-12 budgets.
  • The 2014-15 increase doesn’t even bring Idaho’s per-pupil spending back to 2012-13 levels of $6,916. When adjusted for inflation, Idaho’s per-pupil spending actually dropped by 4.2 percent in 2013-14, the steepest decrease in the nation. (Click here to look back at the 2013 debate over Idaho K-12 budgets.)
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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