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.

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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.

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