STUDY QUESTIONS CONSTITUTIONALITY OF IDAHO’S EDUCATION FUNDING PLAN

Emilie Ritter-Saunders reports a report released today by the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy questions whether the state is meeting its constitutional duty to “maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.”

The report is authored by the center’s director Mike Ferguson, who was also Idaho’s chief economist for 25 years.

“One of the things I wanted to draw attention to is that unlike most state programs, public school funding is enshrined in the state constitution, it is basically different,” Ferguson says.

Ferguson’s report examines Idaho’s public school funding system from 1980 through 2013 (it includes the latest education budget for fiscal year 2013 which was signed into law recently.)

The school funding report focuses on two key issues:

  1. A decline in funding for public school maintenance and operation (teacher salaries, support staff, utilities, etc.) since 2000.
  2. An increase in relying on unequalized property tax levies in order to support school district maintenance and operation budgets.

Here are the main findings of Ferguson’s study:

  • Public school funding has significantly decreased over the last 13 years.
  • Tax cuts and increased funding of Medicaid have been the two biggest reasons why education funding has declined.
  • Because of property tax differences and local levy options, school districts are not being funded equally, as required by the state constitution.

Ferguson says he initially began the study to take a closer look at how the recession and an increased reliance on property taxes to fund schools, affected Idaho’s education funding plan.  As he dug into the data, Ferguson says the focus of the study changed.

“In the course of putting the information together, I looked at a longer history of public school funding and frankly was surprised to see the pretty dramatic changes since 2000 — well before the great recession,”  Ferguson says.

We’ll have much more on this study, including an interview with economist Mike Ferguson next week.

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