Another day, another funding formula bill makes its debut

With little discussion, a new school funding formula bill made its debut Wednesday.

But any attempt to overhaul the formula is racing against time as the 2019 Legislature moves closer to adjournment.

This race began as the Senate State Affairs Committee voted to introduce — or “print” — a new funding formula rewrite. State Affairs’ action was largely procedural. Only a handful of “privileged” legislative committees can print bills late in a session, and State Affairs is one of them.

In a nutshell, Wednesday’s vote sets the stage for a full hearing on the new funding formula bill, most likely in the Senate Education Committee. No hearing date has been set.

If Wednesday’s action sounds familiar, it should. On Monday, Senate State Affairs printed a version of a funding formula rewrite — just minutes before the House Education Committee killed a second bill without even printing it.

That first Senate bill is now obsolete. Lawmakers have met with education groups since Monday, making some changes to that 65-page bill.

Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian

The result — said Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, one of the bill’s authors — is “a palatable piece of legislation, or as palatable as it can be at this point in time.”

One big change in the new bill is more of a clarification. While the bill includes language from the career ladder — the state’s five-year plan to boost teacher salaries — the bill makes clear that schools do not need to follow the state’s teacher salary schedule. Instead, schools can continue to put the state’s salary money into a pay schedule of their own design.

None of this is new policy, Den Hartog said after Wednesday’s hearing, but the clarification is important. “We were all driving toward the same thing.”

Since Monday, lawmakers and education groups made significant progress on the wording, Senate Education Chairman Dean Mortimer said.

“We listened to the stakeholders again, and all the interested parties,” said Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls.

Any push to rewrite the school funding formula will come under close scrutiny. The current formula is used to parcel out $1.8 billion to the state’s school districts and charter schools, and it hasn’t been rewritten in 25 years.

A legislative committee has studied the existing formula for the past three years, working toward a possible rewrite.

And as far as the 2019 session goes, time is limited.

Senate leaders hope to shut down committee work by Tuesday, Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill said earlier this week. This isn’t a hard deadline. But if Senate leaders adhere to this target date, that only gives Senate Education a few days to schedule and conduct a public hearing on one of the most high-profile issues of the session.

“I think it’s important to keep the process moving along,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise, moments before Senate State Affairs voted unanimously to print the new funding formula bill.

Like Den Hartog, Winder sat on the Legislature’s funding formula committee; Winder co-chaired the panel. Both Den Hartog and Winder sit on Senate Education — the committee poised to take a close look at the new funding formula bill.


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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