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Even before the economy went south, Idaho was hardly a bastion of well-funded public schools.

The state repeatedly lags behind the national average and, more often than not, its neighboring states in funding invested in K-12 education. For example, the state ranked third-lowest in the nation in a study of 2007-08 state-level education funding data completed by the National Center for Education Statistics. In that study, the state average of school district per-student spending in Idaho school districts was lower in Idaho than in any other state, except Utah and Tennessee.

This school year is the first in which the state’s appropriation for public schools is less than the year before. The statewide 7.5 percent, $128.5 million cut this year — with more likely ahead next year — is prompting districts like Twin Falls School District to ask the public for supplemental levies. Other districts with existing supplemental levies like Jerome will need to decide whether to pursue larger levy amounts.

In Twin Falls’ case, voters have been presented with a possible two-year, $7.5 million supplemental levy.

TFSD per-pupil spending has steadily decreased. In the 2008-09 school year, it was $5,453. Then it decreased to $5,387 in 2009-10, when federal stimulus shielded the district from worse cuts.

This year, it’s down to $5,224 per pupil, a reduction of $229 per student from two years ago, according to the district.

That’s well below the national average of $10,259 spent per student in 2007, and even less than the state’s 2007 average of $6,931, according to figures from the district and the National Center for Education Statistics, a branch of the U.S. Department of Education.

“The money we use in our district, we’re very, very careful with it,” said TFSD Superintendent Wiley Dobbs.

With the supplemental levy proposal, Dobbs said it was crucial for community members on a levy committee to weigh in whether the proposal should go to voters. District residents will vote on the proposal on March 8, and a simple majority is needed for it to pass.

“It was really important for members of our community to look at it and tell us what they thought,” Dobbs said.

In the study of 2007-08 district spending, the figures also put Idaho near the bottom of states in the Northwest. The averages were: $7,782 spent per student in Idaho, $10,938 for Montana, $10,091 for Nevada, $9,205 for Washington, $9,488 for Oregon and $14,857 for Wyoming. Only one bordering state, Utah, spent less per student than Idaho, with an average of $6,434.

Ben Botkin may be reached at bbotkin@magicvalley.com or 735-3238.

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