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Posts tagged: school funding

Bond issue falls short in Idaho’s largest school district

Voters in Idaho’s largest school district – West Ada, formerly known as the Meridian district – have narrowly failed to pass a $105 million bond issue, which fell short in yesterday’s election though 63 percent supported it with just 37 percent opposed. Bond issues require a two-thirds supermajority to pass.

Idaho Education News reports that turnout was sparse in the school bond election, at just 9.5 percent of registered voters. It was the first bond issue sought by the district since 2005, and came in response to an 18 percent increase in student numbers since 2005-06. The bond was intended to fund the construction of two new middle schools, one new elementary school, renovation and expansion of  Meridian High and site purchases for future new schools; Idaho EdNews reporter Kevin Richert has a full report here; he also has a statewide roundup here on how various school bond levies and bond issue vote fared.

Otter touts ed results, new tax incentive in address to business community

Gov. Butch Otter defended the state’s direction on education — and its funding commitment — in a speech to some 600 Treasure Valley business leaders today, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News. The occasion was Otter’s annual address to the business community, and Otter didn’t directly address his re-election campaign – or his Democratic challenger, longtime Boise School Board Chairman A.J. Balukoff – in the speech. But he did touch on a point of contention in the race between the two, Richert reports.

Balukoff, in a fundraising email last week, took the state to task for its per-pupil spending, which perennially sits near the bottom of national rankings. The rankings, he said, are “downright shameful.” Otter told the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce luncheon today, “I still think we have to look at the results. It’s not how much money you spend, it’s how you spend the money.”

He said the 2014 Legislature took a “great leap forward” in restoring school funding after recession-era budget cuts, though the restoration isn’t complete; it was part of the first step in a five-year plan, he said. You can read Richert’s full report here.

Meanwhile, Idaho Statesman business reporter Zach Kyle, in his report on the speech, writes that Otter “stuck to familiar talking points,” including touting the new tax reimbursement incentive law that took effect July 1 and for which the Idaho Economic Advisory Council is considering its first applicant today, an airline that wants to build a big new maintenance facility in Boise. Kyle’s report is online here; the Boise Weekly reported on Sunday that the airline in question is SkyWest.

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.

Idaho school spending cuts through recession were deepest in the nation

Idaho led the nation for cuts in per-student public school spending through the recession, according to an analysis by ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight blog, spending 12.3 percent less per student in the 2011-12 school year than in 2008-09. That’s using inflation-adjusted figures. New Mexico came in second with an 11.9 percent cut, and just four other states, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia and California, had cuts of more than 10 percent. Thirteen states actually increased per-student spending during that time period, led by North Dakota with a 7.7 percent increase and New Hampshire with 6 percent. Washington showed a decrease of 5.7 percent; Utah had a cut of 8.9 percent; Oregon was down 9.7 percent; and Montana saw a 2.7 percent cut.

Ben Casselman, chief economics writer for FiveThirtyEight, a data journalism site, analyzed the figures and found that overall, the states that already spent less per student, like Idaho and Utah, made the biggest cuts. You can see his full post here.

Some state Board of Ed members worry that boosting public school funding will hurt higher ed

Some members of Idaho’s State Board of Education, meeting today in Lewiston, were sharply critical of state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna’s proposal for a 5.9 percent funding increase for public schools next year, Clark Corbin of Idaho EdNews reports, with board member Bill Goesling terming it “unacceptable” and saying it would come at the expense of the state’s colleges and universities. “I think at some point the board is going to have stand up and say, ‘This is not going to work for higher education,’ ” Goesling said.

The public school budget proposal is aimed at phasing in the recommendations of a 31-member education reform task force that included four state board members. It doesn’t address higher ed funding.

State Board member Milford Terrell said, “The fact is these numbers are staggering when you look at where we are going and what we are doing and who is going to be robbed in this whole spectrum of moneys.” But member Richard Westerberg, who headed the task force, responded, “I don’t think anyone on the board or in the room would argue that we have adequately funded K-12 education.” You can read Corbin’s full report here.

Examining the costs of ed task force recommendations…

Legislative budget writers are hearing a presentation this morning on the education stakeholders task force recommendations, which have been endorsed by Gov. Butch Otter and state schools Superintendent Tom Luna. “If the recommendations were implemented today, it’s a range of $346 million to $406 million dollars” in fiscal impact to the state, legislative budget analyst Paul Headlee told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. That estimate is for the minimum costs. Some of the 20 recommendations from the task force wouldn’t require more state spending, such as moving to a “mastery-based” system for advancing students from one grade to the next; enhancing pre-service teaching opportunities; and adopting new teacher preparation recommendations.

The priciest items on the list: $82 million to restore operational funds cut from the schools during the state’s economic downturn, and $252 million for a new career ladder system for paying teachers, which would include substantially boosting pay and shifting to a three-tiered professional licensing system. Luna this week unveiled his budget request for next year, which seeks to phase in the proposals over the next five to six years.

Headlee noted that the career ladder recommendation, if phased in over six years as recommended, would cost $42 million next year, split into $26 million for the first year of the new ladder, and $15.9 million for leadership awards. That’s roughly equivalent to a 3.7 percent increase in teacher pay overall next year for the career ladder changes, and another 2.2 percent from the leadership awards. You can see Headlee’s full presentation here.

“Within this model, an instructor could conceivably move backwards, if their evaluation shows they’re not achieving,” Headlee said, or if they move backwards on the licensure tiers. “So the ladder possibly could move both ways. There’s more detail that needs to be worked out on this.”

As far as the operational funding, Headlee noted that the cost to restore the funds – which are apportioned out to school districts through a per-classroom formula – will rise each year. Those funds have dropped from nearly $25,700 per classroom unit before the recession to just $20,000 this year. The $82 million figure is how much the restoration would cost this year. Next year, projections show there will be about 82 more classrooms, pushing the cost up to about $84 million. If the restoration is phased over five years, the cost would be about $115 million.

Overall, funding all the task force recommendations would require an increase in Idaho’s public school budget of between 26.5 and 31.1 percent, Headlee calculated.

Temporary teacher contract laws get mixed reviews…

The Idaho Legislature’s K-12 Educational System Interim Committee heard sharply differing views this afternoon on how three controversial teacher contract bills have been working since lawmakers passed them on a temporary, one-year basis this year, and what should be done about them next year. The Idaho Education Association requested that two of the three, SB 1040a, allowing teachers’ pay and contract days to be reduced from one year to the next at a school district’s option, and SB 1147a, limiting all terms in master agreements (contracts between school districts and teachers' unions) to one year only, be allowed to expire. They asked for some modifications to the third bill, HB 261, which governs teacher layoffs.

By contrast, the Idaho School Boards Association and the Idaho School Administrators Association requested that the “sunset,” or expiration clause, be removed from all three bills, making them permanent. All re-enact some provisions from the voter-repealed “Students Come First” reform laws, which rolled back teacher contract rights.

Paul Stark, general counsel for the IEA, said SB 1040a has been “abused,” and a dozen Pocatello teachers have seen their contract days cut without the requirements of the law even being followed. “We don’t believe that that’s how we should treat teachers,” he told the lawmakers. “Frankly, with this law, the pendulum has swung way too far the other way. … We have proven through the governor’s task force and we have proven to the citizens of Idaho that the stakeholders can work together. … So our request is please, let us work on this, and we can find a better solution that fits everybody’s needs.”

But Anne Ritter, president of the Meridian School Board, asked the lawmakers to drop the sunsets from all three bills – and also re-enact another controversial Students Come First provision allowing school districts to unilaterally impose contract terms if they haven’t reached contract agreements with teachers by a mid-June deadline. She said her district, the state’s largest, still hasn’t reached an agreement with its teachers, and is facing a financial crunch that’s forced teacher layoffs and large cuts in the number of school days. “Districts have all made difficult decisions during these challenging financial times,” she told the interim committee. “We need the Legislature to revisit the contract laws to make it possible for school boards to plan appropriately and balance their budgets. … The financial condition of school districts around the state is really at risk.”

Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said he’s concerned that Idaho school districts’ financial situation, and an increasing reliance on short-term supplemental tax override levies, has made it difficult to evaluate data on how well the three temporary laws are working. “I don’t think that that’s a good environment to use to set policy,” he said. Goedde suggested considering another one-year extension to allow more examination of the three laws’ effects.

Karen Echeverria, executive director of the School Boards Association, said she didn’t know how her group would view such a prospect; Penni Cyr, IEA president, said hers would be open to the idea. The joint legislative committee meets again in November, and may meet in December as well; it’s due to report back to lawmakers, who convene their session in January.

Luna wants 5.9% increase for schools next year, to start phasing in task force reforms

State school Superintendent Tom Luna told the Meridian Chamber of Commerce today that he endorses “every one” of the 20 recommendations of an education stakeholders task force appointed by Gov. Butch Otter, and has built his budget request for public schools for next year to match them – including a request for a 5.9 percent, $77 million increase in state general funds. “Taken together they will fundamentally transform our education system in Idaho for the better,” Luna said. “They’re all important.”

Luna said he agrees with Otter that the reforms will cost between $350 million and $400 million a year in new money, and that they must be phased in over several years. “While this budget only addresses one fiscal year, I believe it sets us up for a fiscally sound structure for funding the task force recommendations over multiple years,” he said.

Luna’s budget proposal calls for spending $42 million next year for the first phase of a new teacher career ladder, a proposal that will cost $250 million over six years and eventually boost Idaho’s starting teacher pay to $40,000, a third higher than it is now. The plan also would establish a new three-tiered professional licensing system for teachers, with the second tier eventually starting at $50,000 a year, and the top tier at $60,000. The proposal for next year, he said, is “a major step in transforming the way we pay Idaho’s teachers so as a state we can attract great teachers and retain the ones that we already have.”

Luna’s proposal also includes $13.4 million for school technology next year; $5.64 million for new opportunities for high school juniors and seniors to take advanced courses; and $16.5 million for the first installment of restoring $82.5 million in operating funds that have been cut from Idaho’s schools during the state’s economic downturn. The task force suggested phasing in the restoration over five years.

Luna’s budget request totals $1.3779 billion in state general funds, up from this year’s $1.3008 billion figure.  He told the crowd of 80-plus at the Meridian Chamber luncheon that he wants input on the proposal, from everyone – parents, teachers, business people, and more, and is open to making changes. He noted that the Legislature won’t convene for three months, and then it’ll debate for another three. He called his proposal “the beginning of a conversation.”

After his talk, Luna said he’s had “a very positive reception” from legislators, education stakeholders and others to his plan, which anticipates a substantial funding increase for schools not only next year, but likely each year for the next six. Luna said that's what it would take to accomplish the task force's plan. “I think that people are really focused on finding a way to make these recommendations a reality.”

81 schools in running for $3M in tech grants

There are 81 Idaho schools in the running for $3 million in new technology pilot program grants, Idaho Education News reported. All the applications put together total nearly $19.5 million. The State Department of Education plans to announce the winners by July 1; you can read a full report here from Idaho EdNews reporter Clark Corbin.

Judge narrows student fee lawsuit, tells parents to go to small claims court

A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Idaho’s school funding system, in part because families are charged fees for various aspects of instruction, has suffered a major blow, after District Judge Richard Greenwood on Friday dismissed all but one school district from the suit, and said parents who object to fees in their districts could just file actions in small-claims court. Reporter Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News has a full report here. Russ Joki, the lead plaintiff, told Richert, “This is not a solution at all, and makes a mockery of the right to a free public education.”

Joki, a former Nampa School District superintendent, contended that fees he was required to pay for his grandchildren’s education violated the state Constitution, which requires the state to provide a system of free, common schools. Greenwood’s ruling dismissed 65 school districts from the lawsuit, leaving only the Meridian School District, to which two of the plaintiffs, including Joki, had directly paid fees. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Luna ‘confident’ after his school budget pitch

Click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner on today's school budget hearing, in which state schools Superintendent Tom Luna told JFAC he'd rather offset the cuts to teacher salaries called for in his “Students Come First” laws next year than refill a state rainy-day fund for schools. “I'm confident that when we're done, we will have a budget that fully funds all of the elements of the Students Come First education reforms, and keeps teacher salaries equal to what they are today,” Luna told reporters after the budget hearing. He didn't propose reversing this year's shift from salary funds of $14.7 million.

Luna said because two-thirds of Idaho high schools have expressed interest in being among the first third of schools to get new laptop computers for each student under Students Come First, he's convinced there's “overwhelming support that's been developed for this one-to-one program.” With a referendum looming to ask voters if they want to repeal the Students Come First laws, Luna said, “I think when we get to November of this year, the last thing people are going to want to do is go back to what it was before.”

AP: Idaho’s new student data system scores well in national report

A new report released today shows Idaho has met all 10 goals in a national project to collect and monitor data on student achievement, but the state still needs to improve when it comes to effectively using the information being collected, reports AP reporter Jessie Bonner. Idaho was among the last states to launch a longitudinal data system to track student achievement; it started operating the system last school year amid strenuous complaints from school districts around the state about difficulties with the new system. The state Department of Education says it's gotten better; click below for Bonner's full report.

Luna wants a third of next year’s surplus for schools

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Public schools chief Tom Luna says education would get about a third of the projected $180 million budget surplus Idaho is expected to carry into the next fiscal year, under a spending plan he's submitting to the governor. Luna told The Associated Press on Wednesday he wants at least $61 million of the surplus to go toward public education in the 2012-2013 school year. Under Luna's budget request, more than $20 million of that extra money would be used to replace funding that would be taken from funding for salaries to pay for new education changes backed by Luna and the governor, such as teacher merit pay. The shifting of money from salaries to pay for classroom technology and pay-for-performance was among the most debated parts of Luna's education changes.

Land Board votes 4-1 to keep school funding from endowment even next year

Idaho's state Land Board voted 4-1 this morning to distribute $47.5 million to state endowment beneficiaries including public schools next year, up 2.3 percent overall from this year's distribution of $46.425 million, but with no increase for schools, which would get $31.29 million, identical to this year's level. State schools Supt. Tom Luna cast the lone dissenting vote, prompting a questioning look from Gov. Butch Otter, who's chairing the meeting, as he hadn't spoken against the motion from Attorney General Lawrence Wasden to approve the endowment board's recommendation. “I chose not to rehash my concerns I've expressed before at this time,” Luna said, “seeing it wasn't going to change any votes.” Otter responded, “You're probably right.”

Luna successfully advocated an additional $22 million payment from the endowment to schools the year before last to help ease them through state budget cuts, but the board agreed to that only on a one-time basis. The endowment board's recommendation is based on the state's management formula for the fund, that 5 percent of the permanent balance be distributed to the beneficiaries each year; the largest beneficiary is public schools, while others include the University of Idaho, State Hospital South, the state penitentiary, and other state institutions. That formula would actually result in a small reduction for schools and one other beneficiary next year, but endowment fund investment manager Larry Johnson said there are sufficient reserves to make sticking with at least last year's level “prudent.”

Some of the other endowments have actually exceeded their targets for reserves; in accordance with the state's policy, $28.6 million from those funds' reserves will be transferred into their permanent funds. There's no transfer back for public schools, which now has enough reserves to cover three years of distributions, below the target of five years; all other endowments have five years' worth of reserves. “The recommended distributions and transfers are prudent and achievable, and … they represent an appropriate balance between current beneficiaries and future generations,” Johnson told the Land Board.

The distribution level approved by the Land Board today will now be built into budget requests for 2013 that lawmakers will consider in January.

Breakdown of school districts’ MOE $$

Here's a link to the full breakout of how much each Idaho school district will get in a one-time payout of discretionary funds, thanks to the state's higher-than-expected state tax revenues for the year; the payouts are required under federal maintenance-of-effort rules attached to earlier stimulus funds. The total, $59.9 million, exceeds the $47 million that state lawmakers cut from public schools in next year's budget, though state officials are warning districts that more cuts still could lie ahead. The highest payout is $7.1 million for the Meridian School District; lowest is $4,216 apiece for two tiny elementary school districts, Arbon and Three Creek. The payouts are based on the number of support units, which is roughly the number of classrooms per district. Boise schools will get $5.1 million; Nampa, $3 million; Coeur d'Alene, $2.1 million; Post Falls, $1.2 million; and Lakeland, $923,261. Many school districts are targeting the one-time funds to cancel planned teacher-furlough days or other budget cuts already ordered.

Of school funding, data system problems and commitments…

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on Idaho's budget-crunched schools looking at a possible $50 million one-time boost in July, no strings attached, if state tax revenues meet projections in the final month of the state's fiscal year that ends June 30. And here's a link to my full story on the dustup over the state's new longitudinal data system for schools, which local school officials around the state say has serious problems, but state schools Supt. Tom Luna says must be in place by September. After Tom Taggart, president-elect of the Idaho Association of School Business Officials and director of business and operations for the Lakeland School District, urged lawmakers today to “slow down” the process so bugs can be worked out, Luna said that's not an option, under strings tied to the $300 million in federal stimulus funds Idaho's accepted in the last few years. “We lost that option when we took the money from the feds – we have a Sept. 30, 2011 deadline,” Luna said. “It's time to meet those commitments.”

School data system ‘not working for the school districts’

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee is now hearing an update on the new student longitudinal data system, known as ISEE, or Idaho System for Educational Excellence. “The system is pretty well developed now and the department is transitioning off of federal funds,” explained legislative budget analyst Paul Headlee. “It looks like at this time, both the development and maintenance of the system is less than was originally proposed in 2008.” From fiscal years 2009 to 2011, the state has appropriated $8.64 million for development, including a $5.9 million federal grant, and in fiscal year 2012, the state has appropriated $1.09 million for maintenance and operations.

Tom Taggart, president-elect of the Idaho Association of School Business Officials, told the lawmakers, “We want to look forward in what we can do to make this work, without being too negative, but I think part of our message is a dose of reality as to what's going on at the school level with ISEE. We're the nuts and bolts people who are in the business offices in the schools. We like it when things work, and when they don't work we like to find a way to fix them.”

On ISEE, he said, “There's still a lot of concern and frustration. … We're not here to whine, we're not here to put up roadblocks. We don't have any political agenda. We want see this thing work. However to our members it's clear at this point it isn't working for the school districts, and we haven't seen what we'd like to see in response to our concerns.” Trying to get the system to work has placed a “huge burden” on school district staffs, Taggart said. “They are spending hundreds and hundreds of hours. … A lot of time it's like whack-a-mole: You solve this problem and three more pop up over here you have to deal with.”

As a result, he said, “I'm not sure anyone can say exactly how many units are being funded this year, how many teachers are being funded. … Normally at this time, we'd have that information.” That's created uncertainty in setting district budgets, he said. “There's great frustration out there.”

One-time funding boost for schools could be ‘very significant’

The possible $50 million additional payout of discretionary money to Idaho schools, if state surplus funds hold up in June, will be “very significant,” said JFAC Co-Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. “We were hoping it'll be a little higher,” he said. “It may be the very thing that helps 'em through this tough budget year.”

His co-chair, Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, cautioned, however, “June isn't here yet.” June typically is the fourth-largest month for state tax revenues, and in some past years, she noted, it's brought bad news. Said Cameron, “We'd feel better about June had May been a better number.”

School districts, already facing big cuts, will have full discretion on how they spend the one-time payout of discretionary funds. “They can do whatever they feel they need to do,” Cameron said. “They may buy back furlough days. They may use it toward staffing needs.” Bell said, “This has no strings attached to it at all.” But both Cameron and Bell said they'd encourage them to “be cautious, because we know the next budget may be worse.”

The state budget for schools for next year includes a 1.6 percent cut in salary-based apportionment, the main state funding source for staff salaries for schools, and the following year, that apportionment will be cut by 4.2 percent as part of the new school reform laws, with those funds shifted elsewhere, including to technology investments. “That's already built in in statute,” Cameron said. “From my perspective, they are wise to hang onto it for the following budget year.”
  

Possible additional money for schools under federal MOE requirements: $50M

The final numbers aren't in yet, but the latest estimates suggest that, depending on what happens with state tax revenues in June, Idaho school districts and charter schools could get about $50 million in a one-time distribution of discretionary funds to satisfy federal maintenance-of-effort requirements attached to federal stimulus funds Idaho accepted earlier. That would be about $3,587 per support unit; a support unit is a calculation roughly equal to a classroom.

Legislative budget analyst Paul Headlee said under the same requirements, community colleges likely would get about $5.5 million. If there's a negative variance in this year's school funding formula calculations, the amounts to be distributed could drop; if the state collects more than forecast in June, they could go up, and if it collects less than forecast, they could drop.

JFAC gathers for interim meeting: ‘Not using word ‘normal’ any more’ on school funding

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee is gathered for its interim meeting and tour today, starting out at Columbia High School in Nampa. Nampa School District Superintendent Gary Larsen, asked by committee members how he'll cope with state budget cuts and new requirements to shift salary funds to technology, said, “We'll work with what we get. … I'm a little leery about cutting back the workforce more than we have.”

JFAC Co-Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said, “We're not even using the word 'normal' any more in this situation.”

Among those joining the joint legislative budget committee for its meetings this morning are state schools Supt. Tom Luna.

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About this blog

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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