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The Census Bureau has released its annual report on per-pupil investment among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Once again, Idaho ranks next-to-last, and we appear on our way to the bottom of the heap.

The report reflects the 2008-2009 school year, when Idaho invested $7,092 per student. Only Utah was lower, at $6,356 per child. However, Utah has held the line on cuts since then, and was in the Top 5 in boosting its investment in its children from 2008 to 2009, with a 10.3 percent gain. Meanwhile,  Idaho has slashed nearly a quarter-billion from its K-12 budget over the past three years. 

One of our neighbors, Wyoming, is among the nation's most generous when it comes to education. The Cowboy State ranks Number 5 nationally, investing $14,573. Other states' investment and ranking include Montana ($10,059; 25th), Oregon ($9,805; 28th), Washington ($9,550; 32nd), and Nevada ($8,422; 45th). The national average was $10,499.

Writing on his Idaho Statesman blog, Kevin Richert noted an interesting subplot revealed in the report:

The Census Bureau study breaks down where Idaho education dollars come from. The results are significant, especially in light of some of the heated debate over local school levies in Meridian and across Idaho:

• In 2008-09, 66.9 percent of Idaho's K-12 budget comes from state revenues. The national average is 46.7 percent.

• Meanwhile, just 23.1 percent of Idaho's K-12 budget comes from local taxes, including property taxes. The national average is 43.8 percent.

As Richert notes, the Idaho Legislature decided in 2006 to shift education funding away from local property taxes to the state. “But the Census numbers underscore the fact that Idaho school districts' fortunes rise and fall on the state's ability — or willingness — to meet its funding obligations. When the state comes up short, this forces the districts to go to local taxpayers to seek help.”

Writing in a Spokesman-Review story headlined “Idaho voters raise taxes for schools after lawmakers wouldn't,” Betsy Z. Russell tallied up the recent results: “In elections in 65 of the state’s 115 school districts this spring, 54 have been successful – that’s 83 percent – in passing supplemental property tax levies to boost basic operating funds for local schools, while 11 have failed.”

But the levy failures include the state's largest district, Meridian, which will not try again this year. To meet its anemic budget, Meridian expects to cut 100 teaching jobs and slice another seven days off the school calendar next year (after cutting seven in the current school year). And even in districts where levies passed, job cuts are still a possibility.

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