No. 51, again: IEA decries Idaho’s per-pupil spending

A national teachers’ union has issued its annual rankings — and for Idaho, it’s old news.

Idaho again ranked dead last in the nation in per-pupil spending, according to the National Education Association’s latest “Rankings of the States” report.

“Idaho students deserve better — a lot better,” said Layne McInelly, president of the Idaho Education Association, the NEA’s affiliate in the Gem State. “Consistently ranking at or near the bottom in terms of the state’s investment in our public school students is an unacceptable trend that must be reversed.”

The raw numbers:

  • Idaho spent $6,747 per pupil in 2018-19, ranking No. 51 among states and the District of Columbia. That’s just $8 more per pupil than Idaho spent the previous year, when it also landed at No. 51.
  • Utah remained at the No. 50 spot. Its 2018-19 spending came in at $7,247 per pupil — precisely $500 more than Idaho.
  • The national average was $12,978. In other words, Idaho comes in at 52 percent of this average.

For years — and in multiple studies — Idaho has landed at or near the bottom of national school spending rankings.

And Idaho’s standing hasn’t budged despite increasing K-12 spending by at least $100 million per year from 2015 through 2019. The 2020 Legislature followed that with a $78.7 million increase for the current budget year. But as a coronavirus-driven downturn eats away at state tax receipts, Gov. Brad Little has warned educators to brace for $99 million in K-12 budget cuts.

Those cuts jeopardize one area of improvement: teacher pay. Little plan to cut $99 million freezes the state’s career ladder, its 5-year-old mechanism to boost teacher salaries.

Idaho’s average teacher salary climbed to $50,757 in 2018-19, and the state climbed from No. 43 to No. 41 in national rankings. On average, Idaho salaries increased by 3.1 percent in 2018-19, ranking 10th nationally.

Despite these increases, Idaho teacher pay continued to lag behind all neighboring states — except for Montana, where the average salary was only $36 less than Idaho’s. Teacher retention remains a perennial problem in Idaho — as schools, especially in border communities, frequently lose educators to higher-paying jobs across the state line.

The IEA also raised concerns about another Idaho ranking. Idaho has 18.5 public school students per teacher, sixth highest in the nation. The national average is 15.7.

“An average of 18.5 students to every teacher at the K-12 level indicates class sizes that are unwieldy and makes it difficult to provide individualized instruction and address the mental and emotion needs of students,” the IEA said in a news release.



Kevin Richert

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 "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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