Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy
Wonky Wednesday

Wonky Word of the Week: School Funding Formula
photo of kids eating pizzaLet’s say you have a very large family. One night you decide to treat everyone to pizza. Unsurprisingly, your kids are all highly motivated to get their slices of the pie and it’s your job to make sure everyone gets a fair share. But how much pizza should you order? And how do you slice it?

Some of your kids are big and growing. Should they get more? Some have needs that might not be obvious. How much are the kids willing to chip in?

The state of Idaho has over 290,000 school students spread out over 115 school districts and 47 charter schools. State funds in excess of $1.5 billion go towards meeting their educational needs. The method for making sure everyone gets their fair share of the education budget is the School Funding Formula, our Wonky Word.

How it Works

The school funding formula is just that - a collection of complex mathematical formulas used to allocate education funding across Idaho’s school districts. Transportation needs, the number of non-native English speaking students in a district, and the proximity of a district to the state border are just a few of the factors taken into account. Funding flows from the state to school districts through three streams: Salary Apportionment, State Discretionary Funds, and Categorical Funds.

Pie chart representing school fundingSalary Apportionment is the largest of the three streams and is calculated based on the number of students. It also takes into account the experience and education level of a district’s teachers.

State Discretionary Funding uses a modified formula based on the student population. It also takes into account the different funding needs for different grade levels.

Finally, Categorical Funds support around 25 separate purposes or categories established by the legislature. These range from Special Education to Juvenile Detention to Advanced Placement.

The current formula hasn’t been updated since 1994.

So Why Change it?

A lot has changed in the world of education and educational technology since 1994. More students are taking classes online or through dual credit, charter schools have proliferated, students have more ease of movement between and within school districts and the state is gradually moving to a mastery-based education model.

In addition, there has been a great deal of criticism of Idaho’s school funding. While overall funding has been on the upswing in the last two years, Idaho still lags far behind pre-recession school funding. In addition, a reliance on local supplemental levies (September, 2015’s Wonky Word) has increased funding inequity as affluent districts have more capacity to levy taxes on property. Idaho received an “F” for overall education in a 2014 Education Law Center report and ranked near the bottom for Funding Fairness.

Idaho also received low marks for Educational Equity in an Education Week analysis, coming in 49th in School Finance. A report from the Idaho Legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluation noted problems in the state’s funding for Special Education.

What’s Next?

The 2016 Legislature passed Concurrent Resolution 33 to appoint a committee to study the formula before the next session starts. The committee roster was confirmed on June 17 and includes ten legislators, Secretary of Education Sherri Ybarra and a member of the State Board of Education. As the Office of Performance Evaluation report noted, changes to the formula will likely create winners and losers.

One thing is for certain: the Public School Funding Formula Workgroup members have a tough job. Just ask anyone who has ever tried to slice a pizza into over 150 slices.


Calling All Wonks
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Recent Events:


The Public School Funding Interim Committee met yesterday! Click here to check out their comprehensive meeting packet.

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