An interim committee created by the Legislature and tasked with revamping the state’s school funding formula wrapped up nearly three years of work last week, submitting its draft for a new way to divvy up money among public schools—and leaving districts across Idaho to make sense of potential winners and losers.
There’s at least one superintendent from a losing district that isn’t complaining: Blaine County’s GwenCarol Holmes.
Her district would drop about $82,500 if the shift kicked in today, according to a model from Nov. 21 released by the committee—0.42 percent of its current state allotment, and a pittance of its locally supplemented $55.6 million general fund.
But Holmes, who regularly traveled to Boise to track the committee’s progress, would gladly trade some cash for the formula’s revamped focus, and the flexibility it allows individual districts.
“I’m excited about the new formula,” Holmes told the Idaho Mountain Express on Wednesday. “Is it enough money? No—there’s never enough money. But it comes from a conversation about equity—about students, and what it takes to educate a student.”
That means not treating each student the same, a departure from current practice, which simply pays by the head based on a district’s average daily attendance.
Any money beyond that was “a line item,” Holmes said; in other words, it was earmarked by the Legislature for specific programs, and locked into place.
Under the new approach, funding would be discretionary, budgeted by local school boards wherever they deem it necessary.
And, it would be paid out using a weighted calculation, shunting additional money toward students and schools that “need it most,” according to a statement by the Education Commission of the States, a Colorado-based consulting firm that helped the committee.
Based on current funding levels, each student enrolled in district schools counts for a baseline state payment of just under $4,300. Some stay there, but others—those the committee targeted for extra support—are weighed more heavily, generating additional state money.
“At-risk” students—typically defined as kids from low-income families—count an additional 10 percent at first, rising to 25 percent in the third year and beyond—a sum that projects to about $1,000 more per student if state spending continues its spending and population trends, according to the Education Commission’s estimates.
“English language learners”—that is, students that speak English as a second language—receive additional funding, too. That rises from 10 percent in year one to 35 percent in year four and beyond, worth an estimated $1,500 per student.
Special education students would get the biggest bonus, starting with a 65 percent bump, rising to 100 percent in the fifth year.
There are other provisions as well: Gifted and talented students, elementary and high school students, large and small districts, and poorer areas each get a boost to cover additional costs the committee identified above the baseline.
The Blaine County school board already budgets this way, Holmes said; for the past four years, it has allocated more money toward kids who need more support, and the schools that teach them.
But she sees that group swelling, and doesn’t expect the district losing state funding once the three-year “hold-no-harm” period lapses.
“It’s de minimis,” she said of the projected hit. “The trend in our district is a growing number of students with needs. Unless it reverses, that $100,000 or so isn’t going away.”
As of now, nothing is final. The plan still requires legislative approval when the session convenes in Boise next month. That gives superintendents from districts on the wrong side of the reallocation plenty of time to lobby their legislators.
From one to another, Holmes isn’t having it.
“I think the committee worked hard to make sure nobody loses,” she said. “A lot of people are reacting now, when this has been going on for three years. They should have been there from the start.”