If the 2017 Legislature wants to add another $100 million or so to the K-12 budget, it looks like the money will be there.
On Tuesday morning, legislative budget-writers started looking over some of the numbers that will define the session that will begin in early January. And while their counterparts in other states are facing the prospect of spending cuts, Idaho lawmakers could have ample tax revenues on hand.
Districts across the state will collect at least $7.7 million in “emergency” property taxes — money designed to cover the costs of growth.
In school funding parlance, the additional taxes are known as emergency levies. School districts qualify for emergency levies if their preliminary fall student numbers are up from the preceding year. School boards can pass an emergency levy without voter approval.
And for districts in the state’s growth areas, the emergency levy is a perennial tax of sorts — even though trustees can only approve the tax for one year at a time.
It didn’t take long for former Gov. Jim Risch to remind me how I was earning a paycheck 10 years ago.
In August 2006, Risch was midway through a seven-month stint as governor, and brokering a deal to slash Idaho property taxes.
I was editorial page editor at the Idaho Statesman at the time — and our editorial board came out against his plan to eliminate $260 million in public school property tax levies, and use a $210 million sales tax increase to make up most of the difference.
Slightly more than 25,000 Idaho elementary school students were reading below grade level, according to statewide test scores from this spring.
As sobering as those numbers sound, they also represent a snapshot. In the fall of 2015, more than 36,000 students were not reading at grade level. At the end of the school year, two-thirds of these students remained below grade level. But over the course of the school year, teachers and schools helped 11,000 students pull their reading skills to grade level.
Over several years, more than $2.3 million in federal grants went to Idaho charter schools that later closed their doors.
The grants came from $1.8 billion in federal programs designed to provide startup dollars for charter schools. And the U.S. Department of Education concedes the grant recipients include more than 400 failed charter schools.
Idaho school districts could be out close to $2 million, as a result of the latest Idaho Education Network budget snafu.
Fifty-seven of Idaho’s 115 school districts now stand to lose out on “e-Rate” money — federally administered dollars collected from landline and cell phone bills. The districts were counting on the e-Rate dollars to cover a share of their technology costs on a host of projects.