State Board shifts to enrollment-based K-12 funding model, again

The State Board of Education approved a temporary rule on Wednesday to allow public K-12 schools to use student enrollment rather than daily attendance as a basis for state funding this school year.

The move provides funding consistency to schools amid another COVID-fraught school year that’s seen attendance rates plummet in schools across the state. The board made the same decision — for similar reasons — last school year. That decision did not extend to this school year, leaving the State Board to consider the rule change again Wednesday. A permanent change, which has been a heated topic in recent years, would require a decision from the Legislature.

K-12 leaders expressed worry in September that a hike in student absences tied to the pandemic this school year would leave state money circling the drain, since Idaho carves up K-12 funds using the average-daily-attendance metric.

Those concerns resurfaced Wednesday with letters from district and charter school leaders asking the State Board to make the change again this year.

“Most districts have seen attendance rates 5-10% less than pre-pandemic years,” K-12 business officials from 13 districts wrote in a combined statement included in Wednesday’s meeting materials.

State Board staff outlined drops based on schools’ October and November reports to the state to the tune of $65 million.

That doesn’t mean all schools would feel the full financial burden if the board stuck with an attendance-based model this year. State law guarantees that Idaho’s school districts receive at least 97% of the funds they received in the prior year.

But that safe-fall only works because districts pitch in to help cover costs for districts that need to use it. And not all public schools get to rely on the extra layer of funding protection.

Idaho’s public charter schools do not qualify, “so there is no ‘floor’ to backstop the decrease in support units,” Idaho Charters School Network chair Terry Ryan wrote in a separate letter to the board.

Little discussion preceded the board’s unanimous vote Wednesday, though some members stressed the need to help schools that continue to grapple with the lingering pandemic.

“I think it comes down to the fact that the impact on school districts is real and severe,” said board member Linda Clark, a former K-12 superintendent.

Board president Kurt Liebich cited concerns about a heavier impact on the state’s charter schools, and schools’ efforts to encourage sick kids to stay home during the pandemic.

“If we don’t do something here, we’ll penalize them for essentially doing the right thing,” Liebich said, adding, “I think we’ll have a lot of relieved superintendents and business managers.”

The temporary rule expires at the close of the upcoming legislative session, State Board chief planning and policy officer Tracie Bent told board members after the vote.

Board briefed on higher ed student survey data

Nearly all of Idaho’s higher education students report feeling valued and respected and having a sense of belonging, according to survey results presented to the State Board Wednesday.

State Board staff presented overall findings from the survey following concerns last legislative session that students in Idaho’s colleges and universities weren’t comfortable stating their views or felt pushback over their political orientations.

Those were “all anecdotal,” Liebich said during Wednesday’s meeting. As a result, the board OK’d a “scientific review” of the claims, which resulted in the survey.

Here’s a closer look at responses from the 54,933 degree-seeking students who responded:

  • Eighty-seven percent said they they feel valued, 95% said they feel respected and 90% said they have a sense of belonging
  • Sixty-seven percent said they “never or rarely” feel pressured to affirm or accept beliefs they find offensive.
  • Seventy-eight percent said they never or rarely feel shamed or bullied for sharing their personal beliefs or viewpoints.
  • Eighty-nine percent said they feel safe to express their personal beliefs or viewpoints with others.
  • Seventy-six percent expressed familiarity with safeguards and policies that protect freedom of expression.
  • Eighty-five percent agreed that it is important to participate in courses and activities designed to enhance understanding of others’ beliefs and viewpoints.

Liebich expressed some concerns over the results, including just 76% of students saying they were familiar with safeguards and policies that protect freedom of expression.

But State Board Chief Academic Officer T.J. Bliss warned the board against drawing conclusions of the “high, high” level from results currently available.

“It’s too early to have the conversation to draw conclusions,” Bliss said, adding that more information, from responses broken down by student cohort to gender political affiliation data, is needed.

“I wouldn’t even call these preliminary results,” Bliss added.

The survey also provided some insights into the boarder political views of higher ed students :

  • Twenty-seven percent identified as being on the “left.”
  • Twenty-seven percent identified as “center.”
  • Twenty-three percent identified as being on the “right.”
  • Five percent identified as “other.”
  • Eighteen percent did not identify.

More information on the survey could be available as early as the first week of January, said Bliss.

Devin Bodkin

Devin Bodkin

Devin was formerly a senior reporter and editor for Idaho Education News and now works for INL in communications.

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