Statehouse roundup, 4.1.19: House passes pared-down funding formula bill

After more than 80 days of gridlock and disagreement, the House Monday passed a pared-down school funding formula bill, in less than two minutes and without any debate.

House Bill 293 won’t rewrite Idaho’s funding formula — that effort appears dead for the year. But it would define terms and require schools to begin submitting new enrollment and finance reports.

Backers of the bill said those reports and definitions are a precursor to coming back in 2020 or beyond and attempting a full-blown funding formula rewrite.

Rep. Bill Goesling

“It is important to remember this is one step in a series of steps that have occurred and will occur as we transition from an attendance-based funding formula to a student-based funding formula for public schools,” said sponsoring Rep. Bill Goesling, R-Moscow.

The bill defines several terms that would likely be used in a new formula, including at-risk students, economically disadvantaged students, English language learners and local salary schedules.

It also requires schools to submit enrollment reports, including numbers for at-risk and economically disadvantaged students, by Oct. 1 and Dec. 1 for the next three years. Schools would also need to submit local salary schedules and revenue and expenditure reports.

Finally, the bill requires the House and Senate education committees to “conduct a comprehensive review” of the funding formula every five years, beginning in 2024.

Nobody debated against the bill Monday. But during a committee hearing last week, officials from several education groups and the Nampa and Caldwell school districts expressed several concerns. Education officials focused their concerns on issues with defining economically disadvantaged students and with defining local salary schedules by including two minimum salary requirements.

Bill sponsors have said they don’t intend to mandate a second minimum for the professional rung, and will address concerns in the rulemaking process.

The funding formula debate has loomed large over education circles throughout the entirety of the 2019 session. Legislators wrote more than a dozen drafts of bills aimed at changing the formula, but the debate was clouded with transparency concerns and legislators and education groups who said they were excluded from the process.

Eventually, legislators did attempt to put forth bills to rewrite the funding formula, with varying degrees of success and failure.

The Senate made slightly better progress.

  • On March 13, the Senate introduced a rewritten funding formula bill. The Senate Education Committee spent 90 minutes walking through that bill March 14. Then, on March 18, Senate Education held a two-hour hearing, where education advocates asked the Legislature to slow down. That bill, Senate Bill, 1196, hasn’t been heard from since and appears dead.

Representatives passed the pared-down funding formula bill 67-2 on Monday. Only Reps. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, and Steve Berch, D-Boise, voted against it. Having passed the House, the bill heads next to the Senate, where it would likely be assigned to the Senate Education Committee and could trigger a public hearing as early as Tuesday.

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