School funding formula draft released

The Legislature’s Public School Funding Formula Interim Committee finally unveiled a draft of a new formula on Wednesday, after nearly three years of hearings and testimony.

The draft is based on 2017-18 funding levels and it swaps out the current attendance-based model of funding for an enrollment-based formula.

Changing the formula is important because the formula drives how $1.8 billion is distributed from the state to local school districts and charters each year.

But a battle may be brewing over what is — or isn’t — included in the new formula. Two influential education groups said they have concerns.

Highlights of the new formula include:

  • Additional funding for at-risk students, English language learners, special education and gifted and talented students.
  • Additional funding protection for small schools or districts. Under the draft, elementary schools with enrollments of 330 or less would receive a boost. High schools with enrollments of 840 or less would receive a boost.
  • Minimum funding levels for Idaho’s smallest school districts. Under one model in the working draft, the state would provide minimum funding for 30 students in those districts, regardless of whether enrollment actually reaches 30.

The 12-member interim committee worked with consultants from Education Commission of the States to replace Idaho’s complicated school funding formula.

“This is a plan that recognizes every single child in this state — every one — they are not cogs in a factory model system,” said Rep. Wendy Horman, an Idaho Falls Republican serving as the committee’s co-chair.

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What’s in

Under the draft, 17 existing budget “line items” would be folded into the new formula, while 15 others would be pulled out. Retaining 17 existing line items in the new formula would account for about 90 percent of all funding from the 2017-18 budget.

Here’s a look at some line items that would be rolled in:

  • Salary apportionment.
  • Benefits apportionment.
  • Entitlements.
  • Limited English proficiency programs.
  • Gifted and talented programs.

One major discussion point has been funding for teacher salaries. Horman said the Legislature’s career ladder salary law will remain on the books once the new formula is adopted. During the upcoming 2019 legislative session, lawmakers will consider approving funding for the fifth and final year of pay raises outlined under the 2015 law.

What’s left out

Pulling out 15 existing budget line items would translate to $183 million from the most recent budget.

Under the draft, items that would be excluded from the formula include:

  • Transportation funding.
  • Technology funding.
  • Building maintenance.
  • Leadership premiums.
  • Literacy funding.

On Tuesday, Idaho School Boards Association Executive Director Karen Echeverria wrote a letter to the interim committee asking it to reconsider and include technology funding in the formula.

“Once again, in the true spirit of local governance – which we believe was one of the main tenants of this Committee – ALL pro-rata items should be included in the new formula, including technology,” Echeverria wrote. “In addition, it makes no sense that only one pro-rata distributed item should be excluded from the formula.”

Idaho Education Association officials told Idaho Education News at the end of Wednesday’s meeting that they share the ISBA’s concerns over excluding technology funding. IEA officials went a step further, and said they oppose excluding funding for teacher leadership premiums, a salary bonus the Legislature created to reward educators who take on additional responsibilities or accept hard-to-fill positions.

What happens next

Several technical details of the formula remain unresolved.

Those include:

  • The specific weights that will be applied for funding special education and at-risk students.
  • Determining how to count at-risk students who are identified for funding.
  • Fractional enrollment — how to count and fund students who attend different schools, or attend virtual schools part time or who are predominantly homeschooled but who may attend one or two courses at their local public school.

Committee members will tweak and manipulate the funding formula for a few more weeks, then reconvene for a follow up meeting Sept. 24.

The committee plans to present a final funding formula on Oct. 25 and may schedule a final meeting Nov. 27.

If the committee approves a new formula, it will bring that formula to the 2019 legislative session for consideration. In order to be adopted, the Legislature would need to change several sections of current law and pass the new funding formula into law. A new funding formula bill could be one of the biggest and most complex pieces of legislation in recent years. Legislative Services Office officials estimate changing from an attendance to enrollment model of funding would require a 65-page bill — and that only addresses one aspect of the new funding formula.

The committee’s working timeline calls for holding all school districts harmless until the 2023-24 school year, when the new formula would be fully implemented.

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