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Latest effort to fund schools based on enrollment likely faces uphill path at the statehouse

School funding experts predicted a looming financial disaster for the nation's K-12 schools.
LA Johnson

The State Board of Education this week laid out its legislative ideas for the coming session: a wish-list of sorts for lawmakers to consider. For a second straight year, changing school funding to enrollment-based is high on the Board's priority list.

Idaho’s schools have long been funded based on average daily attendance: how many kids actually show up. When the pandemic sent everyone home, changing to an enrollment-based funding structure helped keep budgets stable. Stakeholders, including the state board of education, want that stability to continue as more students look for ways to educate out of the classroom. A bill locking in that change through 2024 passed both chambers of the Idaho legislature this session, but Governor Brad Little vetoed it, and the house didn’t have the votes to override.

The Governor said in his transmittal letter, he wanted another year of attendance data before committing to the change, but did authorize another year of temporarily funding schools based on enrollment data.

The State Board of Education is now suggesting funding schools based on 95% of enrollment. They called their proposal revenue neutral. Representative Lance Clow (R-Twin Falls) chairs the House Education Committee and sponsored the 2022 session bill the Governor vetoed.

"I'm open to hearing more about how they're doing this, but I think there's going to be some pushback," Clow said. The vetoed bill didn't have a reduction from enrollment and was expected to cost more. Clow said the Board's new idea is,"like telling somebody, 'we're going to increase your pay per hour, but we're going to reduce your numbers of hours.'"

He said recent data show the comparison between enrollment and average daily attendance may be closer to 97% or 98%.

"The legislature may appreciate this as being a simple approach, but I don't think it is what the education community wanted," Clow said.

Lawmakers allocated $100,000 to create an interim committee to study the issue beginning next month. The entire school funding formula in Idaho will be reviewed during the 2024 legislative session as required by law.

Troy Oppie is a reporter and local host of 'All Things Considered' for Boise State Public Radio News. He's also heard Saturday nights on Boise State Public Radio Music's Jazz Conversations.