News About and For IEA Members.

Got Ideas? →
Submit an IEA Reporter item.

IEA Events →
View the complete calendar.

School Facilities Funding Approved by Idaho House, Moves to Senate

February 23, 2024

Legislation providing significant state funding to fix aging and dilapidated school buildings across Idaho was approved by the Idaho House of Representatives Friday. The bill now moves to the Idaho Senate.

House Bill 521 provides $150 million in new state spending annually for school facilities, relieving some of the heavy reliance school districts have on local bond and levy elections for creating safe and comfortable learning environments for students.

Chris Parri, Idaho Education Association’s political director, testified in favor of the bill during the bill’s hearing in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee on Wednesday. IEA leaders endorsed the concept when it was unveiled by Gov. Brad Little at the start of the legislative session, and have been engaged in the legislation’s development and progress. In an October survey of IEA members, 33 percent of participants said their school building was not adequate to support effective teaching and learning.

“It’s been no secret that the state of our school facilities lagged behind the ambitions of our people,” Parri told the committee. “Idahoans have watched buildings at the heart of our communities age, crumble, leak, freeze and burn.”

He also pointed to an October 2023 poll commissioned by IEA members showing that 94% of likely voters agree that “Idaho students have a right to safe, secure, and modern school facilities.” In addition, 80% of say the state should fund facilities needs if local voters refuse to do so.

On top of the new funding, generated by the state’s purchase of a 10-year bond worth $1 billion, the legislation also redirects $50 million in lottery revenue and $25 million in sales tax revenue to a new school district facilities fund added to the facilities fund.

The bill now awaits deliberation by the full House of Representatives.

Also on Wednesday, lawmakers introduced a constitutional amendment that would lower the threshold for passing bond measures every two years. Currently, school districts must get approval from two-thirds of voters for a bond measure to pass, per the Idaho Constitution. A proposed constitutional amendment, introduced by the House Education Committee Wednesday, would lower the threshold to 55% in even-numbered years.

While House Bill 521 has strong support among lawmakers and education stakeholders, testimony during Wednesday’s hearing made clear that legislation falls short of providing for the needs it’s intended to address.

In addition, the bill’s provisions for school districts to be eligible for the funding, included to improve the bill’s chances for approval by lawmakers, leave a bad taste in many lawmakers’ mouths. They include:

  • Removal of the August election date for school district elections, leaving only the May and November ballot dates in place.
  • Requiring school districts to submit a 10-year facilities plan and agreeing to a five-day school week, unless four-day schools meet minimum contract and instructional day requirements set by the State Board of Education
  • Requiring districts’ compliance with the state’s anti-critical race theory law and agree that their job applicants will not be required to sign “written diversity statements.

“House Bill 521 is not a panacea, as you have heard,” Parri said. “Many communities will still rely on bonds and levies to meet their commitments to students and removing local control over the August election date doesn’t help that problem. But nevertheless, House Bill 521 is a step in the right direction.”

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This