Legislature plans first hearing devoted to proposed new school funding formula

The Legislature is planning a rare joint session of the House and Senate education committees for next week to review a proposal to overhaul Idaho’s public school funding formula.

The meeting is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Jan. 17 inside the Lincoln Auditorium — the Statehouse’s largest hearing room.

All Idaho legislators will be invited to the joint meeting, said Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls. Horman served as co-chair of Public School Funding Formula Interim Committee, which spent the past three off seasons developing a proposal to rewrite the formula.

Horman has invited a consultant from Education Commission of the States to present an overview of the formula and to encourage lawmakers to take a closer look at what is widely expected to be a top issue this year.

Horman stressed that the meeting will be informational. Legislators will not vote at that time whether to introduce a bill to rewrite the formula.

“It’s basically the culmination of what we’ve been doing for the past three years,” Horman said. “We took feedback, we took the research, the surveys, the public testimony, the focus groups and built a recommendation for a model, and that’s what we will present.”

Senate Education Committee Chairman Dean Mortimer said the agenda has yet to be finalized, but he views next week’s meeting as a chance to present the recommendation to the Legislature.

Legislators can see the proposal for themselves, review the spreadsheet and manipulate it to see how different funding levels could affect local school districts and the overall state budget.

Any change to the formula is important because of the amount of money involved. K-12 spending accounts for about 48 percent of general fund spending each year, and this new formula would represent a different way to carve up the money.

“This will be one of the most significant issues we will deal with this year and, frankly, over next two to three years,” Mortimer said.

In its simplest terms, the formula would move Idaho from an attendance-based funding model to an enrollment-based formula that is designed to allow the money to follow the student.

That aspect of the recommendation has widespread support and was rooted in former Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education from 2013.

But several superintendents have expressed concern that the new formula creates winners and losers. Under the draft the interim committee approved in November, 36 school districts or charters would expect to receive less funding than they do now. On the other hand, the remaining districts or charters would expect their funding to increase or remain level.

Several high-profile lawmakers — including House Speaker Scott Bedke, Horman and Mortimer — have publicly signaled support for rewriting the formula.

Under Mortimer’s ideal rollout, the state would approve the new funding formula this year, and then delay its implementation until 2020. That delay would allow school district business managers to study the formula, brace for any changes and sniff out any potential problems before the stakes become high. The interim committee also recommended a hold-harmless period, where the state would provide additional, temporary funding to protect schools from an immediate funding decrease. After the hold-harmless period ends — say, after three years — the full formula would kick in and the funding protection would disappear.

“I would not be surprised to see us come back next year, if we pass something this year, and make minor modifications,” Mortimer said.

See for yourself

The proposed funding formula spreadsheet is available online for the public to download and test out. Click on the Nov. 21 draft for the latest proposal.

Republish this article on your website