Idaho's Declining Enrollment Safety Net Survives Another Year

Last Updated: May 29, 2011

This article appeared in the May 2011 Rural Policy Matters.

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Somewhat lost among the many education policy reforms that were debated in the Idaho legislature this session was a protection for schools experiencing declining enrollment that Idaho schools chief Tom Luna had hoped to abolish.

Previously, schools in Idaho were guaranteed 99% of state funding for students, based on the previous year’s enrollment figures. This protection provides some cushion from the blow of declining enrollment, a cushion particular helpful for small and rural school districts.

Luna had proposed eliminating that funding completely, and offering instead a 10% severance package to any teacher whose position was eliminated due to declining enrollment.

Both the 99% declining enrollment cushion and the 10% severance provision were eliminated in a senate bill that was signed by Governor Butch Otter. But a follow-up House bill reinstituted a 97% guarantee for state funding based on prior year enrollment. That measure, however will sunset after one year. Otter let the bill become law without his signature, saying that he didn’t think the move was necessary, but he recognized its importance to rural Idaho legislators.

Much of Superintendent Luna’s “Students Come First” agenda has passed, including three major policy initiatives: providing laptops to every Idaho high school student and changing requirements for electronic learning; teacher pay system changes; and expansion of school choice programs. Each of those three main bills included an emergency clause to speed up implementation. There is movement in the state to repeal the new legislation. Over 335 bills have become law during this session.

School funding reform per se has not been a part of the legislative priority this year, although Students Come First has been touted as a way to reduce costs at the local level. State education funding was cut for a third straight year this year, as lawmakers adhered to no-new-tax campaign promises. Local districts are responding with levy increase elections, some of which have been approved by voters.

Idaho removed some school support from the property tax in 2006 and implemented a penny sales tax increase. But the state has not increased its share of education funding as promised at the time of the tax swap.

Read more:

Coverage of declining enrollment support:

Coverage of Luna’s “Students Come First” Agenda and response:

Coverage of school funding shortfalls:

Read more from the May 2011 Rural Policy Matters.