Idaho remains stuck near the bottom of public education funding, ranking second to last of all states in per-student spending for a third straight year, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released Monday.
Idaho spent $6,824 per student in the 2010-11 school year, above only Utah, according to the latest available figures.
Neighboring Washington ranked 30th – up two spots from the previous year – with $9,483 spent per student.
“Coming from Washington, it was certainly eye-opening to see the funding in Idaho,” said Matthew Handelman, Coeur d’Alene School District assistant superintendent. “We combat perception (of underfunding education) by working hard and doing our best – just like everyone else out there we’re trying to be leaner and meaner.”
Idaho and Washington both fall below the national average of $10,560 per student. And that is down 0.4 percent from the year before – the first decrease in per-student spending since the bureau began collecting data in 1977.
“I don’t know whether a student or a parent knows we don’t have enough funding,” Handelman said. The district approaches shortages with the idea: “How are we going to do this? And we do it.”
The census figures also include rankings for school spending per $1,000 in per-capita income for each state. By that measure, Idaho ranked 42nd, which is a drop from the previous year’s ranking of 38th and far below the state’s 17th ranking in 2001.
The share of Idaho’s personal income that goes to schools dropped 23 percent from 2000 to 2013, according to the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy.
Washington long has scored low in the measure of spending per $1,000 in personal income because of the state’s relatively high personal income, which has been well above the national average for years.
Washington was 46th on that measure in 2010-11, a slight improvement from 49th place the year before.
Nationally, property taxes accounted for 65.6 percent of revenue from local sources for public school systems.
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; 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 schools need reform.
The top per-student spenders were New York ($19,076), the District of Columbia ($18,475), Alaska ($16,674), New Jersey ($15,968) and Vermont ($15,925).
Other states ranking near the bottom include Mississippi ($7,928), Arizona ($7,666), Oklahoma ($7,587) and Utah ($6,212).
Out of the 16 states with the lowest per-student spending, 15 were in the South and West.
Reporters Jody Lawrence-Turner and Betsy Z. Russell contributed to this report.