Proper Funding of Idaho Public Schools
We support an equitable public school finance system that funds a free, quality public education for every Idaho child no matter where they live.
Article IX Section 1 of the Constitution of the State of Idaho is clear:
LEGISLATURE TO ESTABLISH A SYSTEM OF FREE SCHOOLS. The stability of a republican form of government depends mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it shall be the duty of the legislature of Idaho, to establish and maintain a general, uniform, and thorough system of public, free common schools.
Yet today, 130 years after the adoption of our state’s founding document, decades of chronic underfunding of public schools force local district leaders to make do with an ad hoc mix of funding that creates strategic uncertainty and inequity.
Multiple court decisions through the years, including a 2005 Idaho Supreme Court ruling saying Idaho’s public school funding scheme is insufficient and unconstitutional, underline the need to improve public school funding. The “general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools” envisioned by Idaho’s founders is achievable if we end Idaho’s chronic underfunding of public schools. IEA members stand ready for that work.
“It would take an estimated $847 million to get all buildings up to ‘good’ condition.”
Survey of 77 out of 105 school districts statewide
January 2022 K-12 School Buildings Report
Office of Performance Evaluations Idaho Legislature
How can idaho public education still be underfunded after recent record investments k-12 public schools?
Recent record investments in K-12 education were important and bold steps in the right direction. Yet current economic conditions and the need deficit left by decades of underfunding mean recent investments allow school districts to barely keep up with inflation.
What evidence do you have of underfunding?
Multiple court cases, including an Idaho Supreme Court decision in 2005, have ruled Idaho’s funding of public schools, especially related to facilities, is inadequate. Idaho’s at- or near-bottom ranking in per-pupil spending and other education spending benchmarks is well documented. But perhaps the best evidence is the hundreds of millions of dollars in basic business costs Idaho school districts are forced to ask local taxpayers to approve each year above and beyond their state and federal appropriations. In 2022 alone, Idaho voters saw more than $1 billion in bond measures and special levies on local ballots to help school districts educate our children.
What’s wrong with asking local taxpayers to meet the needs of local schools?
Nothing, if those needs are unexpected or beyond the scope of typical fundamental expenses for offering a quality education — the true purpose of bonds and levies. Instead, bonds and levies have become a regular, if unreliable, revenue stream for school districts. Recent ballot measures asked taxpayers to pay for new buildings in fast-growing districts, salaries and benefi ts for paraprofessionals, and buying and maintaining school buses. When voters reject such fundamental expenses, it creates an increasingly unequal dynamic of “haves” and “have-nots” among districts.
What role does Idaho’s ballot box super majority requirement for facilities bond measures play in the inequity of Idaho’s school funding?
It’s significant. The ability to reach the two-thirds supermajority ballot box requirement on bond measures for school facilities is a very difficult, if not impossible, threshold for many districts. When ballot measures fail with voters,
district administrators are often forced to sacrifice classroom investments for the sake of serviceable buildings or other fundamental operational costs. A 2022 audit by the Idaho Legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluations found that “the current two-thirds vote threshold poses a significant barrier to bond approval.”
What would it take to fully fund public education?
As a starting place, the Idaho Constitution outlines the minimum standards that Idaho’s education funding must meet. The Idaho Legislature is not meeting its constitutional obligations. Beyond meeting the minimum constitutional standard, Idaho taxpayers deserve to have their voices heard in the Idaho Legislature. Right now, they overwhelmingly demand more public education funding, stronger schools, better-paid staff, and additional student services. Public education is “fully funded” when the educational outcomes public schools deliver meet the standards taxpayers demand.
What impact does this underfunding have on the education Idaho students receive?
When school districts are forced to ask voters to pay such basic expenses, often unsuccessfully, real investment in student success, like building up badly needed mental health services for students or investing in our dedicated educators, becomes close to impossible.
What Do Idahoans Think?
58% of respondents to an Idaho Statesman poll released Nov. 1 say Idaho spends too little on education..