Idaho Chief Proposes Revision in School-Finance Formula

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Idaho's state school chief has presented lawmakers with a plan for revising the state's school-finance system that would favor districts with low levels of property wealth.

The proposal, presented by Jerry L. Evans to the House and Senate education committees last week, comes less than a year after a group of school administrators threatened to challenge the current finance formula in state court.

About 70 percent of the state's schools would receive little new funding under the state superintendent's plan. But the remaining 30 percent that stand to gain under the bill enroll about 70 percent of Idaho's students.

Critics of the current formula say it gives an unfair advantage to smaller districts. The new proposal, if adopted, would cost about $18 million to implement.

Legislators, however, said the proposal's prospects were uncertain.

Many lawmakers, as well as educators, said last week that they were still trying to discern the effect of the proposal on their districts.

Mr. Evan's proposal was prepared by an outside consultant hired by the department last year. The department sought the study after the legislature discussed altering the formula during its last session.

'Improve Equity'

August M. Hein, the deputy state superintendent, said the proposal would "improve equity" if adopted.

"There is a distinct advantage for smaller districts now," he said.

The school-finance package includes provisions that would:

Make it more difficult for smaller schools to receive the $36,000 in state funds allotted for each classroom unit, and make it easier for larger schools to receive this amount.

The current formula assumes that smaller districts are more costly to operate than larger districts. Under the current formula, the smallest schools are credited with a classroom unit for as few as 12 children. Larger schools, in contrast, need at least 23 pupils to qualify for a classroom unit.

Allow districts to use up to 10 percent of their funds for special education. The current formula reimburses districts on a per-pupil basis.

Direct additional state funding to districts that have property-tax yields below the state average.

Reduce the amount that districts get from the state for operating geographically isolated schools from $4 million to $1.5 million.

Limit increases in state funding for school transportation.

Ensure that no district will lose state funds as a result of a formula change. State contributions, however, will be frozen at this level, forcing property-rich districts to become more dependent upon local resources for growth in future years.

While many observers said the current formula needs to be overhauled, not many have come out in favor of Mr. Evan's plan. Neither Gov. Cecil D. Andrus nor the state's school-administrators' association have taken a position on the proposal.

Nick Hallett, superintendent of the Meridian school district, said he believes the measure will have a difficult time getting through the legislature because relatively few districts would gain from the new formula.

Lawsuit On Hold

Mr. Hallett, who organized the 11 districts that were considering suing the state, said the suit has been put on hold, pending the outcome of this year's legislative session.

He said that the suit, if filed, would allege that the school-finance system is not "thorough and uniform," as required by the state constitution.

Although his district stands to gain $2 million under the new formula, Mr. Hallett said there is a financial "inadequacy problem in our state, as well as an inequity problem."

"Our system is too far out of sync to correct it in one year," he said.

Vol. 09, Issue 18

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