Unfinished work: Report spotlights K-12 task force funding needs

The 2018 Legislature put an additional $100 million into K-12 budgets, but a new report suggests the work is far from finished.

It will take another $120.6 million — at least — to fully fund the recommendations from Gov. Butch Otter’s K-12 task force, the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy said in a report issued last week.

The report’s release coincided with the end of the 2018 legislative session, and it reflects the 2018-19 K-12 budgets. But the report comes as Idaho education policy confronts a crossroads.

Otter is retiring after three terms — so when the 2019 Legislature considers funding the final installment of the task force’s five-year plan, a new governor will be in office. In addition, the 2018 Legislature passed more than $125 million in tax cuts.

“Recent policy decisions at the federal and state level could make it more difficult for Idaho to implement task force recommendations,” the Center for Fiscal Policy said in its report.

Several items remain unfunded, according to the report:

  • A $57 million shift to an enrollment-based school funding model. For the past two years, a legislative committee has studied changing the funding formula, which is now based on average daily student attendance. Since enrollment numbers are invariably larger than attendance numbers, the state is likely to put more money into an enrollment-based model, to ensure that schools are kept whole during the transition.
  • Another $48 million for teacher salaries, to cover year five of the career ladder plan. The Legislature has already put $176.7 million into the career ladder, including $41.7 million for 2018-19.
  • An additional $7.8 million to help at-risk readers.
  • An additional $7.8 million for job-embedded professional learning.

And that’s not all. The cost of several other task force recommendations are listed as “undetermined.” That list includes Idaho’s increasingly popular advanced opportunities program, which allows high school students to take college-level courses at state expense; a mastery-based learning approach that moves students through school based on their command of subject matter; and the ongoing cost of classroom technology.

To put the $120.6 million in unmet task force programs in perspective, the center for fiscal policy report says the 2018 Legislature put $81.6 million into task force initiatives, including teacher pay, advanced opportunities and school technology.

At a post-session news conference last week, Gov. Butch Otter and Republican legislative leaders hailed the 2018 K-12 budgets — and said the Legislature struck a good balance between education funding and tax relief. Democratic legislative leaders took a different tone, saying the tax cuts jeopardize K-12 funding in 2019 and beyond.

The Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy is a Boise-based non-partisan non-profit group focused on analyzing state tax and budget issues. Its advisory board includes two prominent Republican politicians: former state superintendent Jerry Evans and former state Sen. Hal Bunderson, who had chaired the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee.

Click here to download the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy report.


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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