Funding formula committee resumes work Tuesday

The Legislature’s school funding formula committee will get back to work Tuesday — with an eye to federal compliance issues.

Lawmakers will hear about the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act, and the data reporting requirements that go with it.

They will also hear about Idaho’s new school accountability framework, approved by the 2017 Legislature. Idaho hasn’t had a school accountability system in place since 2014, when it scrapped a much-maligned five-star school ratings; ESSA requires the states to establish an accountability system.

ESSA shifts considerable policymaking power to the states, and this transition is a hot topic in Idaho education this summer. The State Department of Education is scrambling to submit its ESSA compliance plan by the feds’ Sept. 18 deadline, and entire sections of the document are being reworked. Meanwhile, the leaders of the Idaho Education Association and the Idaho School Boards Association have said they have been “disrespected,” as the SDE continues working on the document without consulting them.

Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, and Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, the co-chairs of the funding formula committee.

It’s no accident that the funding formula committee will focus so much of its attention on ESSA Tuesday. For several funding formula committee members, who don’t sit on the House or Senate education committees, it’s important to get an understanding of how the new federal law will affect state education policy, said Rep. Wendy Horman, the funding formula committee’s House co-chair.

“It’s the new framework we’ll all be working under,” said Horman, R-Idaho Falls.

Tuesday’s meeting begins at 9 a.m. in room EW40 on the Statehouse’s garden level. It will be the committee’s first meeting since the end of the 2017 session — when lawmakers gave the committee a second year and $400,000 to continue its work.

After spending the 2016 legislative off-season studying the K-12 funding formula — Idaho’s complex equation that is used to carve up some $1.7 billion in tax money — the committee will spend the next few months considering actual changes to the formula. That’s where the $400,000 comes into play. The committee will use this money to hire a research consultant, and buy computer modeling software to look at possible formula changes.

The committee’s timetable remains open-ended. Horman hopes the committee will at least have some modeling results to show the 2018 Legislature.

“I hope we have recommendations for the Legislature,” she said Monday. “We’ll see how far we get.”

The 10-member committee includes some of the state’s most powerful lawmakers — including House Speaker Scott Bedke, Senate Education Committee Chairman Dean Mortimer and House Education Committee Chair Julie VanOrden.

Idaho has not rewritten its school funding formula since 1994.