Idaho schools — and their heavy reliance on state funding

Idaho schools received more than 63 cents of every education dollar from the state Legislature — one of the highest percentages in the nation.

Meanwhile, local dollars accounted for less than 23 cents on the Idaho education dollar — one of the lowest percentages in the nation.

These were two findings from a new U.S. Department of Education study. The feds released the study Thursday, the same day newly elected state superintendent Sherri Ybarra appeared before the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee to discuss her 2015-16 K-12 budget request.

The federal report is based on old numbers, from 2011-12, but they place Idaho’s unusual K-12 budget pie into national perspective:

State funding: In 2011-12, Idaho schools received $1.38 billion from the state, accounting for 63.3 percent of K-12 spending. Only three states — Hawaii, Vermont and New Mexico — are more heavily dependent on funding from the state level.

The state assumed a much greater role in school funding in August 2006, when it passed a far-reaching tax shift engineered by then-Gov. Jim Risch. The law eliminated some $260 million in property taxes collected by local schools, and used a one-cent increase in the sales tax rate to cover about $210 million of the difference.

During the recession, the state imposed unprecedented cuts in statewide K-12 spending, and is continuing to scramble to reverse the cuts. Last month, Gov. Butch Otter proposed a 7.4 percent funding increase for K-12. Ybarra countered with a proposed 6.4 percent increase — but says her version of the budget would put more money into district “operational funding” that was severely cut during the recession.

Local funding: Conversely, Idaho schools derived only 22.7 percent of their funding from local taxpayers, or a total of $495.6 million. Only Hawaii, Vermont, New Mexico and Alaska collected a smaller share of school funding at the local level.

Despite these percentages, 93 of Idaho’s 115 school districts still rely on voter-approved supplemental property tax levies to backfill local budgets. In 2014-15, that total bill exceeded $180 million.

Voter-approved levies and bond issues comprise the bulk of local school funding in Idaho. Other states, meanwhile, use a different split of local property taxes and state revenues — and in 2011-12, 23 states and the District of Columbia used more local dollars than state dollars to fund their K-12 system.

Nationally, local and state K-12 spending were nearly equivalent.

Federal funding: Idaho collected $305.8 million in federal education funding, accounting for 14 percent of total spending. That means Idaho’s reliance on federal education funds well exceeded the national average of 10.2 percent.

Per-pupil spending: Last week’s report restates a fact that has been widely reported for several years: Idaho’s per-pupil spending exceeds only Utah’s. Idaho’s per-pupil spending of $6,821 came in 36 percent below the national average.

A deeper dive into the numbers: The Education Writers Association has compiled last week’s numbers into a sortable table and an interactive map.

Kevin Richert

About 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 KIVI 6 On Your Side; "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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