Slower-than-expected enrollment growth and below-capacity staffing in some school districts combined this winter to increase the amount of state aid going to every classroom in the state.
In fact, the support package will provide $96 per classroom more than educators expected in money they are allowed to spend any way they want - even though most districts have no choice but to use the cash for such basic operating expenses as utility bills.
State Schools Superintendent Anne Fox told the Senate Education Committee on Friday she would officially declare the $620.5 million state appropriation for the 1994-1995 school year sufficient for distribution formula demands.
That declaration is required under the new formula enacted last year to shortcircuit the court challenge by some school districts to the adequacy of the state’s financial commitment to quality education.
Analysts said enrollment statewide was up by less than 4,900 - 2,000 students under the original estimate. Combined with the fact that some districts did not have the full complement of teachers and administrators authorized by the formula for state reimbursement, that more than offset the fact that teachers and administrators on the job around the state had more seniority and education than initially anticipated.
The net result is that districts statewide will get $531 per classroom to spend without any strings attached rather than the $435 they expected.
That is on top of the state-paid salaries and benefits and $800 per classroom earmarked for improved safety and curriculum and school supplies.
The new formula determines how many teachers and other employees each district can bill the state for and what their basic salary and benefit payments are based on experience and education.
Districts can hire more staff or pay higher salaries, but the extra cost must be borne by local property taxpayers.
Statistics for this school year also indicate that even the tight-fisted aid package proposed for the 1995-1996 school year by Republican Gov. Phil Batt probably will meet the formula requirements, although analysts believe it would provide little if any discretionary cash for the 112 districts.
The formula only earmarks $300 per classroom for improved safety next year and there is no special disbursement for curriculum or supplies.
The smaller-than-expected enrollment increase this year reflected a slowdown in the economic expansion that has attracted tens of thousands of people to Idaho from other states.
That could translate into enrollment growth in the next school year below the 8,000 now projected, which would mean less from the state aid package would be siphoned off for salaries and benefits.