Idaho School Districts Will Absorb Declining Enrollment Cost

Last Updated: March 30, 2012

This article appeared in the March 2012 Rural Policy Matters.

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Idaho’s declining enrollment protection for school districts was taken up again in this year’s legislative session, and although a new law has passed, districts that are losing students will absorb more of those costs than ever.

Last year, Idaho Governor Tom Luna decried the practice as funding “ghost students” and instead proposed a severance pay plan for teachers who lost jobs as a result of declining enrollment. Neither provision passed, but a last minute House bill reinstituted a one-year only 97% guarantee for state funding based on districts’ prior year’s enrollment. Read previous RSFN coverage here.

This year’s compromise bill between public school supporters and legislators looking to cut school funding provides a 97% guarantee, but the local districts will bear the financial burden. All Idaho districts will pay into a fund based on enrollment, and districts that must access the declining guarantee will draw out needed money. Supporters have called the plan “districts helping districts.”

Idaho’s previous declining enrollment funding law guaranteed 99% of the previous year’s state funding to schools, regardless of enrollment. Declining enrollment almost always results in higher per-pupil costs, since many educational expenses are fixed or nearly fixed. Small rural schools are especially vulnerable to problems associated with falling enrollment, since they have proportionally less leeway in finding cost-saving areas.

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Read more from the March 2012
Rural Policy Matters.