On Tuesday, March 13, 46 out of 115 school districts in Idaho ran local levies to augment their education funding via supplemental levies, plant facilities levies, and school bond levies. In 2006, the Idaho legislature changed the primary source of education funding from state property tax to sales tax. Ever since, an increasing number of districts have had to go to their local voters every year or two to ask for more money as Idaho remains 49th in school funding. And this year voters gave a thumbs-up to all. A total of $695 million was added to the coffers of participating districts, many without incurring a property tax increase on the part of voters.
Local levies are not without dissenting voters or harsh opposition as one district witnessed. The Blaine County School District (home of world-class ski resort Sun Valley) proposed a supplemental levy that simply reallocated an existing plant facilities levy with no taxpayer changes for the next two years to keep student programs and staff salaries in place. In 2020, however, another two-year supplemental levy will follow. Opposition voters enlisted the assistance of the Idaho Freedom Foundation and their affiliate Idaho Freedom Action that criticized the salaries and benefits of employees in one of the richest districts in Idaho. It was the first time that an outside organization interfered with such a local election. In addition to vote “no” mailings, they sent robo-calls to voters on three different occasions before the election day but to no avail as more than 62 percent voted in favor.
In other Idaho education news, with their three-month session approaching its March 23 deadline, the Idaho legislators are trying to finish up education and other bills before they return home for the year. A private school voucher bill, HB 590, despite being hotly contested at a House Education Committee hearing earlier by Idaho teachers and various education organizations, passed the House but hit a brick wall Tuesday in the Senate Education Committee (much to the relief of many Idahoans). A charter school bill, HB 566, permitting charters to hire administrators with no education experience or administrative credential is currently being amended to reflect more rigorous training. Lawmakers did not address school safety and gun violence in this session, but one legislator hopes to begin a conversation about background checks.
Finally, the “going home” bill for legislators is one slated to replace the 20-year old Idaho Reading Indicator assessment for K-3 students. No proposal has yet been offered and discussion revolves around whether local schools might determine the best way to test students.