Running the numbers from Education Week

After Education Week — a series of K-12 and college and university budget pitches — we’re all swimming in numbers.

After all, budgets are, you know, made up of numbers. And no one comes to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee without a splashy presentation loaded with statistics. There’s probably a rule requiring that somewhere.

But some numbers are just more interesting than others. They illustrate real-world impacts on students, teachers and parents. They shape the debate over complicated and important issues.

So, this week, let’s run a few numbers.

$547,376,500. Why not start with a big number? That’s the amount of federal COVID-19 relief dollars available to K-12 for this current budget year, which ends June 30.

This line item will decrease next year. The COVID funding is one-time money, so schools will gradually spend down that account between now and Sept. 30, 2024.

Schools have extremely wide latitude for spending this money. And in her first budget presentation Wednesday, new state superintendent Debbie Critchfield promised lawmakers that she would try to make sure the money supports Idaho’s long-term goals. “I believe districts are looking for guidance, about how they can best use that money.”

$29,625,000. This is the cut of lottery money projected to go into K-12 facilities projects next year.

The Legislature is likely to spend a lot of time this session talking about Idaho’s aging and overcrowded schools — and whether there’s some way to move some of this cost off the local property tax.

So, remember this as the debate begins — and the lottery inevitably comes up. The lottery dividend doesn’t hurt, but it’s basically enough to build a grade school. It’s a scratcher in a Mega Millions world.

10%. Critchfield wants to boost the K-12 transportation line item by 10%, to offset the rising cost of diesel and other inflation costs. Gov. Brad Little proposed a 1.7% increase. This gap, $8.1 million, is one of several differences between the Critchfield and Little budgets. The Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee gets the next word.

86. That’s the number of school districts and charters that renegotiated their employee health benefits for this year, to get lower rates or better coverage. That number comes from a Legislative Services Office survey released Wednesday.

And here’s why that matters. Little has made a big push to put more money into school benefits. Lawmakers bought in last year, but underfunded the initiative. Little and Critchfield both want to put more money into benefits; this survey suggests why they’re bullish on the idea.

44,000. The estimated number of “enrollments” in the Idaho Digital Learning Academy, the state’s online K-12 education platform. That IDLA estimate reflects students enrolled in individual online classes (a student enrolled in multiple classes is counted multiple times). Not surprisingly, this number is down from the COVID-19 peak, but it is above pre-pandemic levels.

It’s a good baseline number to remember as lawmakers debate continuing Empowering Parents, a program that provides grants for parents to cover education expenses, such as internet access or computers.

30. The number of Idaho counties without a charter school. What’s more, only seven of Idaho’s 44 counties have multiple charter schools — and they’re generally urban.

Why keep this in mind?

The looming debate over education savings accounts, or other legislation to divert public dollars into private schools, forms of school choice programs, is also a debate about rural access. Granted, charter schools are not private schools. But don’t be surprised if the 20-plus year track record of Idaho’s charter school movement becomes a reference point in this debate.

37%. Buried within the State Board of Education’s annual “Fact Book” is a grim preliminary number. For 2022, the fall college “go-on rate” appears low, and perhaps dropping. During the pandemic, a shrinking percentage of high school graduates went straight to college, and the trend is continuing. (The State Board released a slightly revised go-on rate for the class of 2021: 38%, up from 37%.)

$3,363. The average annual tuition at the state’s four community colleges. This translates to about $140 per credit hour — and only the College of Eastern Idaho has raised tuition in the past four years.

That number is a good reference point for the discussion about Idaho Launch: a proposal to provide up to $8,500 to high school graduates pursuing an in-demand career.

45%. The percentage of Boise State University graduates who leave college without any student debt. And as for the students who do graduate with debt after four years, the debt comes to less than a third of the price of a pickup, President Marlene Tromp told legislators this week. “We wanted to use a metric that was meaningful.”

$252. Here’s a flipside college affordability number.

In 2020-21, Idaho awarded $252 in need-based grant aid per full-time undergraduate student, according to the State Board. The national average was $744.

This is also worth keeping in mind in the context of Idaho Launch. The proposal would phase out $22 million in college scholarship programs and fold the money into in-demand careers aid — for college, career-technical programs or workforce training.


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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