A look at Idaho’s school funding system

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Jim Woodward

EDUCATION: Prior to being accepted into statehood by the U.S. Congress on July 3, 1890, we, the citizens of Idaho, ratified our state constitution in November of 1889 through a statewide vote. Not only did we concur on our Declaration of Rights in Article I of the Constitution, but we also made an agreement amongst ourselves as to what the business of the state shall consist of. One piece of that business is our educational system. Article IX defines the obligation of the Idaho Legislature “to establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.”

Presently, the Idaho Legislature is considering a significant re-write of the laws which determine how taxpayer dollars are distributed throughout the state K-12 school system. There are a multitude of laws brought together to make up the school funding formula. For decades, the starting point for distributing funds has been based on average daily attendance. In addition to attendance, the current funding formula takes into account special programs, education initiatives, school size, transportation needs, etc. There are recognized weaknesses in the system as technology changes how schools function. As a result, three years ago a legislative committee was formed to study updating the funding formula laws. The committee released its results this past week. The recommendation is a shift from average-daily-attendance-based funding to enrollment-based funding. The proposed formula accounts for differences between school districts, as the previous formula did, but has fewer state mandated requirements. The result is intended to provide more local control of spending in the school districts so the people who are nearest a challenge can provide the best answer. The other significant motivation for the change is the hope that funding will better follow students as they take advantage of dual-enrollment programs, online classes, and other educational opportunities.

As a member of the Senate Education Committee, I will be involved daily in the next phase of changing our school funding formula. We will take a recommendation and write new law based upon it. My goal in this process is to ensure that improvements from the change are worth the effort of the change. For the school districts, teachers, and staff, please know that I understand this process is creating a level of unease and uncertainty. I will work in the best interests of the whole and I am available for questions at any time.

TRANSPORTATION: In good economic times, we can finish the year with state revenues slightly higher than expenditures. As responsible Idahoans, we put half of the leftover money in a rainy-day fund. The other half we use for transportation projects throughout the state. Idaho has a backlog of road and bridge repairs needed to update aging infrastructure and a backlog of improvement projects to keep up with our growing Idaho population. There is a grant application process to determine where the transportation money will go. Local transportation agencies in Bonner County and Boundary County fared extremely well in the rankings this year. We should have final confirmation in the next few weeks of $3.1 million of funding which will go to the city of Priest River, the Independent Highway District, Boundary County, the city of Kootenai, and Bonner County. Congratulations to these agencies for a job well done!

TAXES: As a follow-up to the income tax withholding discussion, below is a state website with the new Idaho Form W-4. With the federal and state tax law changes of the past two years, we should all fill out an IRS Form W-4 and a separate Idaho Form W-4, then provide them to our employers. Both forms are a communication between employee and employer to determine how much income tax to withhold per pay period. The forms are not transmitted to the agencies. https://tax.idaho.gov

Sen. Jim Woodward represents District 1, Bonner and Boundary counties, in the Idaho Senate. He can be reached at jwoodward@senate.idaho.gov.

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