Anyone interested in the K-12 funding formula debate that is expected to resurface during the 2020 legislative session should watch the State Board of Education closely this month.
That’s because the State Board is expected to consider a new administrative rule defining student enrollment at its meeting on Aug. 29 in Pocatello.
After three years of development by a legislative interim committee, a proposal to overhaul Idaho’s K-12 school funding formula divided educators and lawmakers earlier this year. Ultimately, the Legislature failed to rewrite the funding formula.
But before legislators left town in April, they passed House Bill 293 into law. Sometimes referred to as “funding formula lite,” HB 293 places new reporting requirements on school leaders. A key provision of that law calls on the State Board to develop new rules that “set forth the procedures for determining student enrollment counts by school, school district, and statewide, and the process for reporting such counts.”
The rule change may appear simple on the surface, but it could become a key part of the debate over how to transition Idaho from an attendance-based funding model to an enrollment-based model where dollars follow the student.
Tracie Bent, the State Board’s chief planning and policy officer, said she’s met with State Department of Education officials, education stakeholders and is in the process of meeting with the regional superintendents’ groups to gather feedback as part of the rulemaking process.
She said state officials haven’t yet developed the language for a proposed enrollment rule, but a proposal will be ready for the Aug. 29 meeting.
“The sausage is still being made at this point,” Bent said. “We’re talking about what a draft should look like, trying to get some consensus finalized.”
Although rulemaking is sometimes viewed as the wonky domain of policy insiders, the enrollment rule could go a long way to shaping the funding formula debate that would have far-reaching effects.
Education spending is Idaho’s largest general fund expense every year, accounting for almost $2 billion worth of taxpayers’ money. Rewriting the funding formula would be a significant move because legislators have debated using the same amount of funding but distributing it differently.
A new way of distributing funding would have led to some districts receiving more funding under a proposed funding formula rewrite, while other districts would see their share of state funding decrease.
During an address to school administrators last week, Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra urged superintendents to follow the enrollment rulemaking process closely.
“I encourage you to continue to monitor the developments with the school funding formula and be ready to engage in a positive and constructive way to ensure the policies being debated are informed by your expertise,” Ybarra said.
If the State Board gives the green light to a proposed enrollment rule on Aug. 29, that would trigger a public comment period that would officially open with the publication of the Administrative Rules Bulletin in October. State Board officials would monitor public comment and any changes would be baked into a pending enrollment rule that would go back to the State Board, likely in November, Bent said.
Based on House Bill 293, school administrators will be required to submit enrollment counts as of Oct. 1 and Dec. 1 to the Legislature by Dec. 15 each year.
The 2020 legislative session kicks off Jan. 6.