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Friday, December 14, 2018  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

A new record: Idahoans are taxing themselves an extra $202M for schools now

UPDATED: Sun., Dec. 2, 2018, 10:21 p.m.

 (Nathanael Massey / The Spokesman-Review)
(Nathanael Massey / The Spokesman-Review)

Idaho school districts will collect a record $202.2 million in voter-approved supplemental property tax levies this year.

This is the first time the supplemental levy bill exceeded the $200 million mark. A year ago, Idaho schools collected $194.7 million – a short-lived record.

Districts can and do use supplemental levies for a variety of purposes – including teacher salaries and benefits, classroom technology and textbooks. And many school officials say the one- to two-year levies are no longer supplemental, but instead help pay for essentials.

Idaho’s supplemental tax bill has nearly doubled over the past decade. The levies are a fact of life in districts large and small – from Coeur d’Alene, which will collect $16 million this year, to Mackay, which will collect $75,000.

All told, 93 of Idaho’s 115 school districts have a supplemental levy on the books, a number that has remained virtually unchanged for the past five years.

But while the vast majority of school districts continue to rely on extra help from local taxpayers, the picture of school funding is blurry. A legislative committee has recommended an overhaul of Idaho’s school funding formula – a complicated rewrite that figures to be one of the hottest issues in the 2019 legislative session. Under the latest version of the new formula, endorsed Monday by the committee, 36 districts and charters stand to receive fewer dollars from the state.

If lawmakers change the way the state carves up its education budget – which is by no means a sure thing – this could affect local tax bills.

Many district leaders “hate having to rely” on short-term local levies, said Rob Winslow, executive director of the Idaho Association of School Administrators. The “winners” – districts that receive more state funding under a new formula – could simply let their local levies expire. But by the same token, districts that lose state funding could need levies more than ever.

At least in the short run, Winslow doesn’t expect the supplemental levy picture to change much. “It’s all early,” he said Wednesday.

The rising supplemental levy bill illustrates shortcomings in Idaho’s K-12 budget, other education leaders said this week.

The $200 million pretty much mirrors the money districts and charters put into teacher salaries, supplementing the state’s salary line item, said Quinn Perry, the Idaho School Boards Association’s policy and government affairs director. The ISBA, the IASA and the Idaho Education Association want lawmakers to leave the state’s teacher salary budget line item intact, rather than folding that money into a new funding formula.

Revamping the funding formula won’t go far enough, IEA President Kari Overall said. A five- to 10-year plan to invest in schools is needed.


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