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Working group formed to revamp school funding formula

An informal legislative “working group” will take on the complicated and time-consuming effort of revamping Idaho’s public school funding formula.

News of the working group broke late Jan. 21, Idaho EdNews reported. But it’s unlikely the group will produce any legislation this year.

The idea of revamping the state’s funding formula is not new. The current law, passed in 1994, has been tweaked several times. In 2013, Gov. Butch Otter’s education task force recommended dropping the current formula — based on students’ average daily attendance — and shifting to an enrollment-based model.

After two years, however, that discussion has given way to the idea of a more thorough review of the formula.

Rep. Wendy Horman

Rep. Wendy Horman

“The education landscape has changed, and our formula needs to be updated to fund new elements such as virtual education, the increasing mobility of our students, and the state’s move toward mastery-based education,” said Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, one of the working group’s co-chairs.

Other lawmakers on the working group are House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley; House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle; Senate Education Committee Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls; Senate Education Committee Vice Chair Steven Thayn, R-Emmett; House Education Committee Vice Chair Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree; and Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, a Senate Education Committee member.

State superintendent Sherri Ybarra will also be on the group, along with representatives of Otter’s office and the State Board.

According to a news release about the group, the panel was convened by Senate President Pro Tempore Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, and House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, “to consider an overhaul to the state’s public school funding formula.”

“If we keep making amendments to the current public schools funding formula, it becomes more and more difficult to maintain a state funding formula that provides the predictability and equity our districts need to budget and educate students,” said Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise.

Horman and Winder said the group provides the legislature with an opportunity to be directly involved and even lead in revamping the formula. The group’s first step will be to seek legislative approval for an interim committee, as well as develop a scope of work and timeline for the effort. There is no intent to submit overhaul legislation in the current legislative session as it is anticipated that the effort will last beyond the 2016 legislative interim.

Since its enactment in 1994, the current public school funding formula has been amended several times to accommodate the needs of Idaho’s public education system. In 2013, the Governor’s Task Force for Improving Education recommended a change to the public school funding formula from Average Daily Attendance to Average Daily Enrollment/ Membership. The task force concluded this would “enhance fiscal stability and remove current barriers to personalized and/or mastery learning models that are required to meet the State Board’s 60 percent goal.”

Over the past two years, the State Board of Education convened a Public School Funding Subcommittees of the Task Force to work on this specific recommendation. The subcommittee concluded that the issue is more than funding based on attendance or enrollment, and the entire formula needs a thorough review. Subsequently, State Board staff met with the governor’s office and legislative leadership to discuss next steps, leading to the informal working group.

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