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Posts tagged: Idaho school funding

Luna calls for 6.9% boost in state school funding next year

Idaho schools chief Tom Luna has submitted a proposed budget for public schools for next year that reflects a 6.9 percent increase in state funding. The budget proposal calls for $23 million to start on a new teacher career ladder, which Luna says will then need an additional $40 million a year in each of the next four years; an increase in operational funding to school districts for basic expenses next year of $10 million; $9 million for classroom technology; $21.6 million for professional development for teachers; and restoring $10 million cut from funding for maintenance and safe and drug-free schools.

All state agencies are required by law to submit budget proposals for the next fiscal year to the governor’s office by Sept. 1. Gov. Butch Otter will propose a budget to lawmakers when they convene in January, and they’ll decide on the details; by then, Luna will be out of office and the new superintendent will be either Democrat Jana Jones or Republican Sherri Ybarra.

“We’re meeting our priorities and fulfilling our promises with this budget,” Luna said in a statement. “This budget proposal follows priorities set forth by Gov. Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education.” Otter had called for phasing in the task force’s recommendations, which total roughly $350 million in increased annual school funding all told, over five to six years; lawmakers approved a 5.1 percent increase in school funding this year as part of the first year of the effort.

Luna’s proposal includes statutory requirements to accommodate expected increases in student population and costs; without those, it reflects a 5.8 percent increase in state general funds.  Luna’s proposed $10 million increase in operational funds would bring operational funds per classroom unit next year up to $22,885, up from $22,401 this year. But that’s still well below the 2008-09 level of $25,696 per classroom unit. Otter's task force called for restoring those funds at $16.5 million a year; last year, lawmakers exceeded that with a $35 million restoration. You can see Luna’s figures here.

Tax levy failure forces one Idaho school district to make PE an online class, among other cuts…

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: LAPWAI, Idaho (AP) — High school students in a north-central Idaho town will have to take gym classes through an online program this year after a school levy failed. Lapwai School District Superintendent David Aiken told the Lewiston Tribune (http://bit.ly/1nKd0Dp ) the district can't afford to hire a physical education teacher, so students will have to take PE through the Idaho Digital Learning Academy, a state-sponsored online school. Students will have access to the school gym and equipment, “but the teacher is on the other side of the computer,” Aiken said. About 59 percent of voters opposed the district's $250,000 supplemental levy measure. Voters also rejected a proposed levy in May. This will be the district’s second year without a music program. The district is set to cut teaching positions, a mental health counselor, aides, a bookkeeper, an attendance secretary, a custodian and a bus driver.

Report: Future Idaho school students to be poorer, more urban, more diverse

A new study commissioned by the Idaho Charter School Network and funded by a grant from the Albertson Foundation projects that Idaho’s school student population will see significant demographic changes in the next five years, becoming increasingly urban, more racially diverse and poorer. “These trends will present challenges for many districts,” the study finds. “Many rural districts will continue to lose students while more urban districts will struggle to meet growing enrollments.”

The study is aimed in part at identifying where the best opportunities are for charter schools in the state, but Terry Ryan, president of the Idaho Charter School Network, said the data also has implications for education in the state more broadly. “Idaho is changing, and how it does schooling needs to adapt if the state’s schools are to adjust to the changing needs of its children and families,” he said.

Idaho’s Hispanic student population is projected to be its fastest-growing portion, while the non-Hispanic white student population is projected to decline. Meanwhile, “Idaho is expected to see net growth in lower income households and net declines in households with incomes above $50,000,” the report says. It also documents the increasing reliance of school districts on voter-approved local tax override levies – an option that’s not available to charter schools. Overall, the report concludes that the current state school funding system is “not well aligned with the coming demands of an increasingly urban, more diverse and poorer student population. The report, entitled “Shifting Sands,” is online here.

Idaho’s poorest school districts struggle to pass tax levies

So far in 2014, voters in 48 Idaho school districts have approved supplemental property tax levies – increasing their own taxes to prop up basic school funding, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News – while voters in just four districts rejected levies. Richert notes something those four have in common: All are among Idaho’s poorest school districts.

The four have from 69.6 percent to 93.9 percent of their students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch, a common measure of poverty in school districts; the state average is 48.8 percent. In Wilder, which ranks No. 1 in the state for student poverty, a two-year levy failed on May 20 by 25 votes; the district is trying again Aug. 26. You can read Richert’s full report here.

Voters pass 41 of 48 school bond, levy measures

Yesterday was Election Day in an array of Idaho school districts, and voters approved nearly $209 million in school levies and bond issues, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News. Richert reports that voters approved 41 of 48 ballot measures for schools statewide. The biggest winner was Twin Falls, where voters backed a $73.8 million building bond measure to make room for a growing student population; the biggest-ticket ballot item was handed the election’s biggest loss, as a $92 million bond issue in the growing Bonneville School District was resoundingly rejected by voters. The closest calls: A levy in Wallace passed by just three votes, while a $4.8 million bond in Eastern Idaho’s North Gem district failed by just four votes. You can read Richert’s full report here.

Ed task force members: There’s agreement on needed changes, now political will needed too

Three members of the governor’s education stakeholders’ task force, which delivered a near-unanimous package of 20 recommendations to improve Idaho’s schools to Gov. Butch Otter this year, told the City Club of Boise today that it’s a mistake to focus on the potential price tag, which could eventually stretch to hundreds of millions of dollars.

“I’ve heard a lot of pushback about the cost - sticker shock’s got everybody,” said Richard Westerberg, a state Board of Education member who chaired the task force. “But I’ve yet to hear the first real criticism of the recommendations in the plan on its function. They’re good recommendations. Can it all be funded in one year? Of course not.” Westerberg said the recommendations are a framework, and the state needs to come up with a plan to accomplish it over time, while also filling in the details. “There’s a whole lot of heavy lifting that needs to be done here,” he said. “You’ve got a really good plan from a bunch of smart, dedicated folks saying, ‘Here’s what we think could help.’ I think the Legislature really wants to do right this year. I’m hopeful.”

Linda Clark, superintendent of the Meridian School District, the state’s largest district, said across the nation, states spend an average of roughly $10,000 per student to educate youngsters, while Idaho spends less than half that. “Can you fund a ‘world class’ school system at 50 percent of the average?” she asked. Years of budget cuts have cost her school district $10 million a year in state funding for basic operations, she said, and left it 117 teachers and 19 administrators below the state allocation. “That results in very high class sizes and very large work portfolios for folks. I’m concerned that as we track that over time, it will have an impact on achievement.”

Mike Lanza, a Boise parent who played a key role in the campaign to overturn the “Students Come First” school reform laws, said, “We’re not attempting to take a small step. … Because we’ve been disinvesting in education, we’ve put ourselves at a disadvantage.” He said, “It’s not hyperbolic to suggest that Idaho is on its way to becoming the Mississippi of the 21st century if we don’t start to do something about this. … We’ve basically created an inexpensive school system, which is not necessarily compatible with a great school system.”

Westerberg said the latest estimates show that by 2020, 60 to 66 percent of jobs in Idaho will require some education beyond high school, whether that’s college or a one-year certification. But now, he said, just over a third of the population gets that. “This state just is not ready for the future of employment,” he said. Meanwhile, the task force members noted that as Idaho has crimped its education funding, it’s fallen in relation to other states in personal income, and risen to first in the nation for the proportion of minimum-wage jobs. All three said a better education system is key to Idaho’s economic future, and noted that, surprisingly, the 31 diverse members of the task force virtually all agreed on what’s needed.

“While this level of collaboration and collegiality is not unprecedented in Idaho, it has been a very long time,” Clark said. Said Lanza, “There’s not a lot of disagreement … on what it takes to deliver education effectively. … We need the political will to do what many people understand needs to be done.”

PERSI change drops Luna’s proposed school budget hike from 5.9% to 5.4%

State Schools Supt. Tom Luna’s proposed 5.9 percent budget increase for public schools next year has dropped to 5.4 percent, Clark Corbin of Idaho EdNews reports, but not because Luna’s changed what he’s asking for. Instead, a recent decision by the PERSI board to hold off on a scheduled rate increase, due to strong earnings in the pension fund, changed the overall numbers. The Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho covers state and local government employees, school district employees and more; PERSI is among benefit costs built into calculations for all state agency budgets.

Tim Hill, deputy superintendent for public school finance, told Corbin the PERSI change made a $7.2 million difference in the public school budget calculations. Now, Luna’s proposed increase for next year comes in at $69.9 million, down from the previous $77 million; you can read Corbin’s full report here.

Luna asks for more time to craft school budget request to match task force recommendations

Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna has asked for more time to prepare the 2014-15 public schools budget request so he can build it around an education reform task force’s recommendations, Idaho Education News reports. While state agencies typically submit budget requests around Sept. 1, Luna submitted only a placeholder “statutory budget” on Sept. 3, IdahoEdNews reporter Clark Corbin writes, and asked for an extra 30 days to submit a formal budget request “so I will be able to submit a budget that is relevant to the Task Force’s recommendations.” The request was granted by Otter’s budget chief, Jani Revier, and Idaho legislative services director Jeff Youtz. You can read Corbin’s full report here.

Luna’s spokeswoman, Melissa McGrath, told Idaho EdNews, “Superintendent Luna will be working closely with all stakeholders as well as the staff at the State Department of Education on developing a budget request that addresses the recommendations of the Task Force.” The stakeholders task force, appointed by Otter and coordinated by the State Board of Education, gave near-unanimous approval to a sweeping set of proposals last month, from boosting Idaho teachers’ pay to advancing students to the next grade only when they’ve mastered the material.

Most Idaho school tax levy votes pass, North Idaho district can now reverse deep cuts

For one small North Idaho school district, yesterday’s levy election results brought welcome news, with voters approving a two-year $1.1 million supplemental level that’ll allow the reversal of deep cuts, including eliminating all sports, cutting kindergarten to half-time, furlough days for all employees and cutting a day off the school week starting this fall. “Needless to say, we are ecstatic,” Plummer-Worley Superintendent Judi Sharrett told S-R reporter Scott Maben; you can read his full report here. The final tally was 561 votes in favor, 374 against. This morning, in a special meeting, the school board voted to reinstate funding for sports, full-day kindergarten and a five-day school week.

Plummer-Worley had been the only school district in North Idaho without a voter-approved supplemental property tax levy to offset state budget cuts to school; an earlier levy proposal fell short in May. It was one of about half a dozen Idaho school districts with levy elections yesterday; most passed. Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News reports that Cassia County and Emmett school districts passed levies after scaling back proposals that earlier failed. Homedale voters rejected a levy for a second time, while Parma voters overwhelmingly approved a 10-year, $2.5 million facilities levy. You can read Richert’s full report here.

Superintendents to Luna: ‘We are starving to death in our districts’

Idaho state schools chief Tom Luna met with school district superintendents from around the state this morning, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News; he was asked about everything from the budget to Common Core to the state’s controversial new high school WiFi contract. Richert reports that American Falls Superintendent Tom Bollinger put Luna on the spot about the state’s decision to park $85 million of surplus money in its rainy-day fund, the Budget Stabilization Fund. “We are starving to death in our districts,” Bollinger said. Luna responded that there’s some “wisdom” in replenishing the savings. But he did say public schools are headed into a pivotal budget year in 2014, because of better-than-expected state revenues, and because an education reform task force is expected to make its recommendation to Gov. Butch Otter later this summer.

Richert reports that the only question about the WiFi contract was from Cottonwood Superintendent Rene Forsmann, who wondered when she could expect to see her district hooked up. You can read Richert’s full report here.

As pay cuts loom, growing number of Nampa teachers quit

As teacher contract negotiations continue in the Nampa School District, Idaho Education News reports that nearly 100 teachers and community members participated in an hour-long tailgate party before last night’s school board meeting, designed to welcome new board members and urge the district to focus on retaining good teachers, at a time when as many as 20 percent of Nampa’s teachers have quit their jobs ahead of the upcoming school year.

 “We continue to have people come in and tender their resignations, and that is ongoing,” said Interim Superintendent Pete Koehler, Idaho EdNews reports. “I expect that to continue all the way up through the month of July until we hit the point where the law says we must now take action.” You can read the full report here from reporter Clark Corbin.

Former teacher Bonnie Richardson said six of Nampa High School’s eight English teachers left their jobs this year – herself included. Each teacher has at least five years experience, but left for financial reasons. “There is a train crash on the horizon,” Richardson said. “With the proposed salary cuts, they can’t afford to have a family.”

The Idaho Statesman has a report here on the situation from reporter Bill Roberts.

Idaho ed spending still at the bottom

Idaho remains stuck at the bottom of public education funding, ranking second to last of all states in per-student spending for a third straight year, the U.S. Census Bureau reported today; S-R reporter Scott Maben has a full report here. The latest census data showed Idaho spent $6,824 per student in the 2010-11 school year, above only Utah. Meanwhile, neighboring Washington ranked 30th – up two spots from the previous year – with $9,483 spent per student.

Both Idaho and Washington fell below the national average of $10,560 per student, and the average itself has dropped 0.4 percent from 2010. That’s the first decrease in per-student spending since the Census Bureau began collecting data in 1977.

Asked about the new figures today, Idaho state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna said, “How much we spend per student is an important factor, but it’s not the only factor.” He said Idaho’s low ranking is influenced by demographics.  “There’s a reason that Idaho and Utah constantly end up at the bottom end … and it’s because we have large families,” Luna said, adding that he has six children. “We have fewer taxpayers per student in Idaho than we have in many other states.”

The 2000 Census found that Utah had the highest number of children under 18 per family, followed by Alaska at second-highest, Idaho third, and California fourth. However, Alaska ranked third-highest for per-student spending in the latest Census report; California was 36th.

While acknowledging that Idaho’s school funding per student compares poorly to other states, Luna said, “What I measure our system against isn’t how much are we spending per student – it’s are we getting the results?” Currently, he said, the answer is no – too few Idaho students go on to college or other higher education after high school. He said that means Idaho needs reforms for its schools.

Judge takes issues under advisement in school fees lawsuit

As the grandfather of a Meridian High School student, Russell Joki submitted $85 in student fees at the start of the school year, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News. Does that give Joki, a former Nampa school superintendent, standing to file a class-action lawsuit against 64 school districts? This was one of the issues debated — but not decided — in a Boise courtroom Monday afternoon, Richert reports; you can read his full report here. Judge Richard Greenwood took the issues under advisement, and gave no indication of when he would rule; among the other pending issues is whether to reconsider dismissing the state as a defendant.

School lawsuit heads to court today

A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of student fees charged by public schools in Idaho heads back to a Boise courtroom this afternoon, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News. District Judge Richard Greenwood dismissed the state as a defendant in the case last month, but the lawsuit continues against Idaho school districts. Lead plaintiff Russ Joki offered to put the case on hold if the parties agreed to mediation, but there was no agreement. Now, arguments on several points in the case, including bring the state back into the lawsuit and class-action status, will be heard in Greenwood’s courtroom this afternoon; you can read Richert’s full post here.

Judge dismisses state from school fees lawsuit

A state judge has agreed to dismiss the state from a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the fees many public schools charge for classes and the legality of Idaho's overall education funding system, the AP reports. Ruling from the bench, 4th District Judge Richard Greenwood sided with lawyers from the Attorney General's office, finding that an existing statute protects the state from being involved at this point in the case; the case will continue with Idaho school districts as the defendants. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Todd Dvorak.

Court brief asks judge to rule that Idaho’s school funding system is still unconstitutional

In the latest twist in an ongoing lawsuit over whether Idaho's school funding is adequate and constitutional, the ACLU of Idaho has filed a brief asking a judge to find that the state's method of paying for schools is still as unconstitutional as the Idaho Supreme Court found it to be back in 2005. The orgzniation contends the court shouldn't allow the Legislature to “avoid its duty” in the school funding case; click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Albertson Foundation threatens to withhold $4.5M in program funding

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation is threatening to withhold $4.5 million it's promised to Idaho next year for a computer program to track student progress. The foundation in Boise says the money now won't be paid unless Idaho restores taxpayer funding for teacher professional development — money put in jeopardy when voters rejected public schools chief Tom Luna's Students Come First overhaul Nov. 6. The Albertson Foundation promised $21 million in 2011 for student-performance-monitoring software from SchoolNet Inc., a New York company. According to a letter from the foundation to Idaho budget writers, however, the final $4.5 million won't be paid “unless the professional development funds are secured.” Melissa McGrath, Luna's spokeswoman, said Friday he'll announce a remedy for the potential loss of funding next week.

School lawsuit hearing reset to March

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A pre-trial hearing on a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of fees public schools charge for sports and other activities has been reset. On Thursday, 4th District Judge Lynn Norton scheduled a hearing for March 13 on a motion by the state to dismiss the lawsuit filed by former Nampa school superintendent Russell Joki. Joki contends that fees assessed for classes, supplies and activities violate Idaho's constitutional promise of a free public education. The lawsuit names The Department of Education, the Idaho Legislature and all 115 of Idaho's public school districts. But logistical snags are bogging down the case. For now, the biggest hurdle is getting the lawsuit served to all of the school districts.Norton said it's not fair to move forward until each district has a chance to respond.

Idaho school funding back in spotlight

Last week, Gov. Butch Otter told a crowd of more than 400 people that Idaho is “probably not” meeting the state Constitution's requirements to provide for education. The implications of that are serious: The state currently is being sued over the issue. “I would say we're probably not, but we're doing the best job that we can, and we're going to continue to do the best job that we can,” the governor said.

Asking the question of the governor was his former longtime chief economist, Mike Ferguson, who now heads the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy. Ferguson has sent out an op-ed piece to Idaho newspapers, headed, “Election Over, Now It's Time To Focus On Resources,” exploring the issue of school funding in the wake of the failure of the school reform propositions on the November ballot. “Two critically important issues need to be factored into this discussion: How much of our financial resources are we devoting to the education of our children, and how are we allocating those resources among those children?” Ferguson asks.

His conclusion to the first question is that the Idaho is spending less and less on public education, falling from 4.4 percent of personal income in 2000 to 3.5 percent this year - a 20 percent decline. He also raises questions about the distribution of Idaho's state school funds with regard to equity; click below to read his full article. You can read my Sunday column here at spokesman.com.

Judge to hear arguments in January in school funding case

A judge will hear arguments early next year on whether Idaho's school fees are unconstitutional, reports AP reporter Rebecca Boone. The lawsuit, from former Nampa school district superintendent Russ Joki and a group of parents and grandparents, contends that Idaho's schools are charging fees that violate the state Constitution's guarantee of a free public education. A judge will hear arguments Jan. 10 on Joki's motion for a summary judgment; he's also filed reports from two experts backing his claims, saying Idaho's school funding has sharply declined over the last 25 years, worsening problems that prompted the state's school funding system to be declared unconstitutional in 2005. “If the Legislature's system of funding was unconstitutional in 1999, as found by the Supreme Court in 2005, it is even more so today,” one of the reports states. Click below for Boone's full article.

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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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