An actual bill to overhaul Idaho’s public school funding formula could make its Statehouse debut next week, but legislators and education groups are continuing to meet behind the scenes to negotiate changes to a draft.
“A (working group) of legislators is meeting with stakeholders to talk about the funding formula and we are working on what I would describe as revisions to some of the language that is buried in there,” said House Education Committee Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls.
Clow said the group is working on “clarification of some of the things that have been brought to our attention” since Jan. 31, when legislators published a draft of the bill.
“We’re eager to get something before you,” Clow said. “I hope by next week we can get an introductory bill out.”
When introduced, a funding formula bill would instantly become the most-watched education proposal of the session. In simplest terms, the proposal calls for scrapping Idaho’s 25-year-old attendance-based funding model and replacing it with an enrollment-based model where money follows the student.
Education is Idaho’s largest expense each year — with K-12 accounting for almost 50 percent of all general fund spending. Because of the money involved and the impact education has on all Idahoans, any change to the funding formula is being heavily scrutinized.
Quinn Perry, the Idaho School Boards Association’s policy and government affairs director, said education groups and legislators met twice last week and have three additional meetings scheduled this week, starting later today.
Clow and Perry listed parties at the table: House and Senate education committee members; lawmakers from the committee that spent three summers reviewing the existing formula; staff from Gov. Brad Little’s office, the State Department of Education and the State Board of Education; and representatives of ISBA, Idaho Education Association, Idaho Association of School Administrators and charter school groups.
Although some education groups expressed concern they weren’t at the table to develop the original draft, Perry said the ISBA is pleased to play a role in development of the bill at this point.
“It’s engaging, yes,” she said. “(The meetings) seem to be productive, though we’ve only had two of them.”
The Senate Education Committee is not meeting Tuesday afternoon in order to facilitate the funding formula meeting.
ISBA Day on the Hill
About 175 school trustees and several superintendents are meeting with legislators and making their pitch for education initiatives early this week as part of ISBA’s Day on the Hill activities.
Trustees nearly filled the Statehouse’s largest hearing room, the Lincoln Auditorium, for Tuesday’s House Education Committee meeting. A similar crowd packed the room for Monday afternoon’s Senate Education Committee meeting.
Clow called on trustees to share their experiences, wants and needs with House Education during an open forum. About a dozen trustees spoke up. Here are some highlights:
- Mike Dominguez, a member of the Mountain View school board, said his district is “running about $3 million short right now.” He asked legislators to keep small districts in mind as they contemplate a new funding formula. As Mountain View’s enrollment decreases, a funding decrease will immediately follow, even though the district still must maintain buildings, pay the bills and continue course offerings for the remaining pupils. “We’re looking at having to cut extracurricular activities, cut two teachers and put more kids in a classroom, and that is not a fair education. We ask taxpayers for what we can ask for, but if they tell us no, we’re going to make cuts.”
- Nancy Gregory, a member of the Boise school board, asked legislators to keep the career ladder teacher salary line item outside the funding formula. She said a wealth adjustment in the funding formula could destabilize education funding. “Because this is the lifeblood of districts, it’s not something that can be toggled and motioned back and forth,” Gregory said. “We need to provide a steady stream of income districts can count on with predictability.”
- Jim Stoor, a Soda Springs school board member, said it is time for legislators to have a serious conversation about lowering the two-thirds supermajority requirement to pass a bond issue. ISBA has pushed for lowering the bond threshold for years, but legislators have resisted calls to make the change. “We ask now that the minority doesn’t speak for the majority,” Stoor said.
ISBA President Jennifer Parkins spoke to Senate Education Monday about ISBA’s support for using state dollars on programs for 4-year-olds — an idea that has so far failed to gain traction in the Statehouse. (More from Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert.)