School funding formula fairness

My head hurts any time the subject turns to school funding formulas. They are complicated and even tiny differences can affect lives.

Yet, it is time to update Idaho’s current formula. It was adopted in 1995,before online and charter schools and dual enrollment.  And, now, after three years of research, a legislative committee has proposed a new formula.

Unfortunately, the best thing I can say about it is–it won’t pass the legislature.

A four-part article under “Data Points” on the Boise School District’s website sums up why.

If the new formula had been in use this year, the Boise School District would have had $6.6 million less to spend;  Coeur d’Alene, $2.7 million less; Lewiston and Orofino, $1.6 million less each. Eighty-three school districts and charters would have lost funding equivalent to the pay of 531 teachers. (Caldwell, however, would have had an extra $2.7 million.)

Eight of the ten districts who would have gained the most are charter schools. And charter schools already receive more money per student than public schools–$7,076.13 to $6,122.97.

Where did the committee go wrong?

Members listened to the wrong advisers. They’ve drafted a plan supported by Bluum,  the more-charter-schools-the-better branch of the Albertson Foundation, without much input from school boards, school administrators, teachers, or parents.

The committee set out to channel nearly all school funding into a “per student” number that would travel with the student from public to charter or online schools. Gone would be items like a Career Ladder based on teacher qualifications and leadership.

Instead, districts would receive extra pay for students who were English Language Learners, had learning disabilities or special needs, or received free/reduced lunch.  (Statistically, poverty correlates with a lack of learning readiness.)

Then it became apparent that charter schools don’t serve many students with special needs and wouldn’t gain.

So the committee decided to defined charter schools as “small schools districts” and allotted extra money to them along with Notus, Lapwai and others.

Small school district receive extra funds so they can offer classes even if only 11 third graders live in the district or only 11 students sign up for geometry.  Charter schools, on the other hand, usually have full classes–and even waiting lists. They can purposely limit their enrollment.

The Boise District’s articles end by suggesting that Idaho’s funding formula be created by the new Educational Task Force proposed by Gov Little.  Like the earlier task force, its members should represent teachers, parents, school boards and higher education as well as the state government.

Idaho is in the curious position of having citizens who are very supportive of public education represented by legislators willing to abolish–or at least hamstring–it.

Yes, some believe the arguments about “choice” and less government control.

The think tanks behind these policies oppose the very essence of public education.  Some refer to the support of racial and cultural diversity as “cultural Marxism.”. They want rich kids growing up believing they are superior to and harder working than others and poor kids to know their place.

Some want schools to impart skills for work, but not for thinking. They don’t want anyone discussing of how U.S. actions led to the current coup d’etat in Venezuela or why refugees are fleeing Central America.

They want teachers who assign lessons from an approved book and go home.

And they want to siphon government funds into private pockets.

We are not merely debating the role of schools, but the future of our republic.

Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2019

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