A fiscal crisis is around the corner for public schools across Idaho. The good news? We can prevent this catastrophe from happening if we act now.
For years, Idaho has used an outdated and ineffective model to fund its schools: attendance-based funding. This system relies on school districts to calculate student attendance and report an average to the state. Funding is then based on attendance percentages multiplied by enrollment numbers. Only seven states, including Idaho, still use attendance as the basis for their funding systems.
By counting attendance and basing funding on that calculation, it was believed the attendance-based system would hold schools accountable for keeping student attendance as high as possible. For years district attendance has hovered between 95% and 97% because districts have incorporated permanent attendance requirements into their student policies.
That all changed with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. As districts struggled to keep their doors open, implemented quarantines, and moved to online offerings, attendance dropped dramatically, and was difficult to track. Oftentimes, districts counted absences differently from one another, causing further confusion in a chaotic time.
Fortunately, for the 2020-21 school year, to accommodate the absences caused by the pandemic, the State Board of Education enacted a temporary rule. This rule switched state funding from attendance-based to enrollment-based. The temporary system worked, even as absences grew, and districts received stable funding allowing them to support Idaho students.
This year, while absences have skyrocketed due to the Covid-19 surge, funding has reverted to attendance. Superintendents around the state indicate that student absenteeism is much higher than last year. In many districts, average attendance is lower than 90% and, in some cases, it’s as low as 80%.
There are three key reasons to reinstate enrollment-based funding:
School districts will be forced to fill the state imposed funding gap with one-time federal funds intended for remediation, counseling, mental health assistance, and other pandemic related relief services. Federal funds were supplanted by the state, while students have never had such immense needs. It is our lawmakers’ responsibility to allow these federal funds to be spent on students as intended.
Classroom sizes will grow after the federal funds are depleted. With more than 80% of a school district’s funding typically allocated to personnel, school districts will have no choice after one-time funds are gone but to reduce the number of teachers, which will increase class sizes for our children. Our children have never needed their teachers more than right now.
The attendance-based system intensifies the unpredictable nature of school funding and will cause districts to make hiring decisions much later than they currently do. Our families need predictability and stability from our public schools.
While it seems obvious that state officials should commit to making the change from attendance-based to enrollment-based, here’s one simple truth: a move to enrollment-based funding would allocate money that’s already been budgeted for schools.
Some have pushed for delaying a move to enrollment-based funding until a new school funding formula can be proposed and implemented. The switch to enrollment-based funding needs to happen now, and not as part of a lengthy debate over a formula for funding schools.
The state must move immediately to a permanent enrollment-based funding system. The time is right: we know that an attendance-based system does not work, and the pandemic has shown us that it needs to change for good. Please contact your local lawmaker and urge him or her to support enrollment-based funding.
Written and submitted by Southern Idaho Conference Superintendents: Bishop Kelly – Rich Raimondi, Boise – Coby Dennis, Caldwell – Dr. Shalene French, Emmett – Craig Woods, Kuna- Wendy Johnson, Middleton – Marc Gee, Mountain Home – James Gilbert, Nampa – Dr. Paula Kellerer, Vallivue- Lisa Boyd, West Ada – Dr. Derek Bub
Retired Superintendents: Wil Overgaard, Dr. Don Coberly, Dr. Geoffrey Thomas