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Idaho school facilities plan clears House committee

The Idaho State Capitol building taken from an upward angle. you can see the American flag, the POW MIA flag and the Idaho State flag.
James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio News

A new plan to funnel $200 million annually to public school facilities over the next decade is heading to the House floor.

The comprehensive bill would divert more sales tax and lottery revenue to build or fix school buildings in Idaho. In exchange, it would also cut individual and corporate income tax rates for nearly all residents and companies from 5.8% to 5.695%. That could ultimately lower overall state revenue.

House Assistant Minority Leader Lauren Necochea (D-Boise), who voted against the bill, said she explained the tradeoffs to her daughter as she walked her to school.

“And she said, ‘That sounds counterproductive.’ And I have to agree with my sixth grader,” said Necochea. “I think this is one step forward, but also a big step back.”

Another tradeoff in exchange for more funding would drop the number of possible school bond and levy election dates each year from three to two – during the May primary and November general elections.

Legislators eliminated the March school election date last session.

Still, education groups supported the measure. That includes Chris Parri, a lobbyist for the Idaho Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union.

“Many communities will still rely on bonds and levies to meet their commitment to students and removing local control over the August election date doesn’t help that problem. But nevertheless, House Bill 521 is a big step in the right direction,” Parri said.
Republicans on the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, like Rep. Kenny Wroten (R-Nampa), agreed.

“We should not allow perfect to be the enemy of good. I think this moves us towards our constitutional responsibility towards funding our public schools,” Wroten said.

A legislative report released in 2022 found a significant backlog in public school maintenance. It estimated it would cost roughly $850 million to get all schools to a “good” condition. Idaho has been sued before over its constitutionally inadequate funding of public education.

The Idaho Supreme Court found in 2005 that “the current funding system is simply not sufficient to carry out the Legislature’s duty under the constitution.”

Avoiding a potential legal fight and fixing schools figured prominently into Gov. Brad Little’s state of the state address in January. He and his staff collaborated on this bill.

The measure could be taken up by the House later this week.

Copyright 2024 Boise State Public Radio

I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season.

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