Governor’s tax relief causes concern for charter facility funding

Charter schools are in jeopardy of losing close to half of their state support for facility funding this spring. And the charter school community is concerned the loss of funds would force schools to divert money from the classroom.

“Sage Elementary School losing $170,000 would be a huge blow to them,” said Terry Ryan, CEO of Bluum, a Boise nonprofit charter support organization.

Rep. Julie Yamamoto

But House Education Chairwoman Rep. Julie Yamamoto is confident that a solution is around the corner.

Bluum reached out to every charter school in Idaho last week, making them aware of the possible shortfall.

“It’s getting late in the legislative session and we’re concerned that we might get forgotten,” Ryan said.

Last year, Idaho lawmakers adopted House Bill 292, a property tax relief package that helps schools pay down bonds and levies by creating a facilities fund. Districts are getting around $106 million for taxpayer relief.

The reform, according to Ryan, inadvertently reduced charter school facility funding, which will force schools to divert a larger percentage of their budgets to facility financing – money intended for student instruction. Traditional districts finance major capital improvements and repairs through voter-approved bonds and levies. Charters are prohibited from using that system.

“Legislative leadership and Gov. Little’s staff have promised a fix but no legislation has been introduced as of today,” Ryan said.

This week, a print hearing in House Education is scheduled for a new bill aimed at fixing the problem. If it passes, it will come back to the full House.

“I am confident that it will take care of any concerns,” Yamamoto said. 

The projected reduction in the state’s charter school facility allowance is caused by the state helping traditional districts reduce their reliance on local facility funding, which is used to calculate the amount of the charter school facility allowance.

The annual allowance is calculated using a per pupil formula. Traditional districts’ bonds and plant facilities levies are divided by the total number of students in Idaho. Last year, approximately $225.3 million was collected and divided by around 289,000 students. Districts took in $778 per student from property owners, so the state allocated $389 to charters, or about $11.6 million.

Because of the tax relief bill, instead of using $225.3 million to calculate the formula, the state had planned to use $119.3 million, once the governor’s $106 million facilities fund is subtracted. The result is a 43% reduction in what charters receive.

Charters are projected to receive $210 per student this spring, according to the state’s most recent special distributions report.

For the past four years, the allowance has dropped by an average of 5% each year. Charters structured their budgets on projected reductions. But the loss of $179.50 per student would cause major disruptions, charter leaders say.

Darren Svan

Darren Svan

Reporter Darren Svan has a background in both journalism and education. Prior to working for military schools at overseas installations, he was news editor at several publications in Wyoming and Colorado. You can send news tips to [email protected].

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday