Little vetoes bill that would continue funding schools based on enrollment

Gov. Brad Little Wednesday vetoed a bill to continue funding Idaho schools based on student enrollment numbers through 2023-24.

While the state’s default is to divide up K-12 funding based on average daily attendance, the State Board of Education — comprised mostly of Little appointees — has voted to temporarily switch over to enrollment-based funding in each of the last two school years to delink school funding from volatile pandemic-era attendance numbers.

In vetoing House Bill 723, Little said he’d support the State Board if it again votes to extend the funding switch, but only if attendance dropoffs warrant it.

“Each time this rule was adopted, it was designed to address known funding challenges that schools were facing due to a large drop in daily attendance created by the pandemic — often by 15 percent or more,” Little wrote in a transmittal letter.

“I am supportive of the State Board reviewing (attendance) data with school administrators this fall and promulgating a temporary rule to maintain enrollment funding for the upcoming school year. My preference is not to commit to this change in advance of such data for the following year.”

Little did, however, sign off on a $23.5 million appropriation bill, which will pay for the state’s switch to enrollment-based funding for this school year. That appropriation also included $100,000 for an interim committee, which HB 723 would have created in order to reevaluate the state’s school funding formula over the next two years.

Little was mum on the proposed committee in his veto letter, but did say that changes to the formula are only “one area to explore,” among further increases to pay, benefits and facility funding.

HB 723 came at the urging of a long list of education stakeholder groups and school superintendents, who’ve called for more stable funding, and more flexibility for students to learn outside the classroom.

The bill likely doesn’t have the two-thirds support it needs in the House needed to override the veto. The House passed the final version of the bill 39-31. It passed the Senate unanimously.

Although the pandemic amplified calls for Idaho to make the switch to enrollment-based funding, the debate predates the coronavirus by several years. A committee formed in 2016 to rework the state’s funding formula pushed a change to enrollment-based funding after three summers of meetings, but reforms never cleared the Legislature.

As of February 2021, only seven states still used average daily attendance to determine school funding, according to the Urban Institute. Those states risk deepening inequities in school funding.

“Because districts with lower rates of attendance also tend to serve larger shares of low-income students, states that use average daily allowance risked underfunding districts with higher levels of need even … before the pandemic,” according to the Urban Institute.

This signifies Little’s second education-related veto of the session. He also rejected a bill extending teacher premiums to recipients who’ve moved on to administrative posts since being awarded the money.

The Legislature will have the option of overriding both vetoes when it returns Thursday, with plans of adjourning for the year.

Blake Jones

Blake Jones

Reporter Blake Jones covers the politics and policy of Idaho's K-12 public school system. He's a lifelong Idahoan, and holds degrees in Creative Writing and Political Economy from the College of Idaho. Follow Blake on Twitter @jonesblakej. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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