Report: Idaho school funding system hurts students of color

The vast majority of Idaho’s school districts plug their budgets with local property taxes — which creates a host of inequities.

One such gap hurts Idaho’s minority students, according to a new report.

“Students of color are more likely to live in communities with the most difficulty approving local education dollars,” the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy wrote.

The nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank looked at the tax levy trend from a different angle: demographics. The group ran the numbers for “high-diversity” districts, where 15 percent of students are students of color, as opposed to low-diversity districts.

The findings:

  • Idaho’s 52 high-diversity districts collect fewer dollars from voter-approved supplemental property tax levies. These districts collect $623 per student. Idaho’s 63 low-diversity districts collect $1,429 per student.
  • The high-diversity districts have lower property values: $498,422 per student, compared to $1,188,595 per student in low-diversity districts.

And when it comes to property tax levies, district wealth is a big variable. Wealthier districts can levy at a lower tax rate, and still collect more tax dollars than poorer districts.

“To raise the same amount of revenue per student, districts with 15 percent or more students of color would need to vote to raise their property taxes by more than twice the rate necessary for districts with fewer students of color,” the report said.

Ninety-three of Idaho’s 115 school districts collected a supplemental levy in 2018-19. And in 2018-19, Idaho’s overall supplemental levy bill exceeded $200 million for the first time.

But here as well, numbers vary widely between districts. In the tiny Mullan School District in North Idaho, the supplemental levy generates $6,818 per student. In rural Southeast Idaho, the West Side district collects a levy worth $119 per student.

“Over-reliance on property values means educational opportunity is driven in part by location and wealth,” the study said.

Read more: A 2006 tax overhaul changed the way Idaho pays for schools — and since then, more districts are relying on supplemental levies. Here’s a detailed Idaho Education News series on the 2006 tax shift.  


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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