The Idaho Constitutions says the legislature “is to establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.” Many legislators and education stakeholders are concerned that our state is not meeting this mandate. A special legislative committee is considering major changes to Idaho’s 23-year-old public school funding formula, including a shift to a student-based model. As president of the Coalition of Idaho Charter School Families, I strongly support this committee’s efforts.
The current public schools funding formula is based on staffing and program allocations set by the Idaho Legislature and the Idaho Department of Education. More than two dozen mandatory programs tie up even more funding. The state government tells local school boards how to spend approximately 75 percent of the funding they get. This funding formula is overly uniform, is inflexible, is resistant to innovation, and takes accountability away from local school boards. Also, students are more mobile than ever and this staffing and program-based funding does not keep up as students move from a traditional school, a charter school, a chartered online school and back into a traditional school.
We can do better. Most other states have recently implemented more student-centered funding formulas and Idaho should as well. A more student-based model would give more freedom to principals, allow for more innovation for teachers, and bring more accountability to local school boards.