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Idaho School Funding Panel Prepares Recommendations

Boise State Public Radio

An Idaho legislative committee is preparing recommendations for changing the way schools are funded. On Monday, the panel held its final meeting of the year to discuss what to present to the 2018 legislative session.

Most elected officials agree Idaho’s method of paying for public education is outdated. The state’s system for funding public schools was adopted in 1994. Districts’ allocations are determined by attendance-based formulas; for example, how many students attend school on an average day.

But school has changed. More students are taking online classes. Some are home schooled, but attend public schools part-time for supplemental programs, such as music or athletics.

The Public Schools Funding Formula Committee has decided to recommend an enrollment-based model, similar to what most other states are using. Members such as Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking (D-Boise) say the state would pay based on the number of kids who use school services, not the amount of time they spend on school grounds.

“We know we need to do this. We need to do it soon and that we’ve got to get a plan in place," Ward-Engelking said. "But we also understand that we’re not going to be able to implement it all in one year.”

State education officials estimate the new system will cost the state between 50-and-60-million dollars a year more than the current system.

The Idaho legislature will have the final decision about making such a fundamental change. The committee is writing a resolution for legislators to consider. But Sen. Lori Den Hartog (R-Meridian) says legislators will also have to sell the idea to voters.

“Getting people onboard with the direction that we’re hoping to go is really communicating the ‘why’ of what we’ve been up to for the last two years,” Den Hartog said.

The specifics of the recommendations are still being worked out, including the question of how long should the transition period be from the old system to the new one.

Our thanks to Idaho Public TV for some of the sound in this story.