An uprising lying in wait

By Seth Ogilvie

There could be an active insurrection against the new way a group of legislators wants to pay schools.

For the last two years, a legislative interim committee has been meeting and trying to figure out the best way to give Idaho schools the money they need to teach kids. Currently, schools get their money based on average daily attendance or the number of kids in the classrooms, and several other line items, like the career ladder. The committee is looking to fundamentally change the way the state spends its money on education, and stakeholders are nervously awaiting the final proposal.

Already, there are signs of dissent.

A slide presented in the November 12th  Boise Board of Trustees meeting reads “Southern Idaho Conference Superintendents are opposed to a formula which creates winners and losers and promotes divisiveness.”

“It is unfortunate that they essentially want to do away with the career ladder,” Dr. Troy Rohn, a Boise School District Trustee, added in an email.

“The Idaho Association of School Administrators, the Idaho School Boards Association, the Idaho Education Association, and the Southern Idaho Conference Superintendents all support keeping the Career Ladder in place,” Boise Schools superintendent Dr. Don Coberly told Idaho Reports Friday.

A letter signed by Executive Director of the Idaho School Boards Association Karen Echeverria , Executive Director of the Idaho Association of School Administrators Rob Winslow, and President of the Idaho Education Association Kari Overall states “We currently have the ability to determine the gap between what the legislature is funding for salaries and benefits and what school districts and charter schools are actually paying. If these dollars are placed into the new formula, we will never be able to capture that data again.”

Changing the way money is allocated in schools has the potential to create huge political problems, because it will affect every legislative and school district differently.

The big problem is math. “They built this model and it has a lot of levers on it,” Winslow told Idaho Reports. If the same amount of money is in the system and that money is dispersed differently, some will benefit and some will suffer. Without adding more money into the system, there is no way of making sure there are no winners and losers without simply retaining the old system or reverse engineering a new system to hit the same goals.

If, after two years of work, the committee were to simply reverse engineer a system to recreate the old numbers, citizens would also be within their rights to wonder why they spent two years working to get a result we already had.

The new system has many variables, and the committee has been constantly tweaking them. “If you raise the base, it kind of lifts everybody,” and you can change the formula without hurting districts, Winslow said, but that would mean more money.

The Boise School District Board of Trustees recently evaluated a recent incarnation from the committee, another version will be released November 26th. These won’t be the final numbers but they are symbolic of the problem; It’s hard not to create winners and losers.

One of the biggest winners, according to the Board of trustees analysis, is Caldwell School District, which would gain $3.4 million. Two of the biggest losers are Boise, which would lose $5 million the equivalent of 100 teachers and Fremont County who will lose, $1.6 million or 32 teachers.

“What the legislators are trying to do now is make a model that is as acceptable as possible to other legislators,” Winslow said. “They came up with a model that will irritate all these legislators because they’ll go back home and realize ‘Wow, you’re messing up my district,’” Winslow said. “That’s a hard sell.” Winslow added it’s a poor idea to give a bunch of legislators a reason to hate it.

A large portion of the money in the recent model would end up in the Treasure Valley: Vallivue would increase $3.1 million, Nampa by $4.3 million, Kuna by $1.3 million, and Mountain Home and Middleton would see just under a million dollar increase.

New funding formula _Page_3

“This will be devastating to some small districts,” Rohn wrote. “Northern Idaho schools will be hit hard along with our district.”

Rohn points to the “wealth factor” as a huge problem that is executed regardless of a districts ability to pass a supplemental levy. “It’s completely unfair and is targeting districts that right now have high property values,” Rohn said.
The formula will affect about half of the state of Idaho’s general fund spending, and stakeholders are understandably anxious. This formula could require more money to keep every district from cuts. Winslow said “If you don’t put enough money in it, it just doesn’t work well.”

But there are competing demands for that money. Idaho voters passed Medicaid expansion this year, and the 2018 legislature passed a large tax cut. The money hasn’t been rolling into Idaho coffers like people expected, Idaho is down $47.3 million from expectations this fiscal year.

This isn’t the type of policy, however, that the Idaho Legislature will easily admit defeat on. Speaker of the House Scott Bedke placed himself on the committee a move that sends a signal he is behind this idea. Students, teachers and all of Idaho will be drastically affected by how the legislature disperses the money, and everyone wants something.
“We were promised something less complicated and transparent based on the committee work that was previously done,” Rohn said. “This version is nothing like that.”

“There shouldn’t be winners and losers,” Winslow said. “You can adjust it and play with it and make yourself a winner and somebody else a loser but that’s not right.”

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