It turns out Idaho voters will no longer consider a measure that would increase K-12 public education funding in the Gem State while adding one of the highest income tax rates in the country.
It was reported today by the Capital Sun that Proposition 1 - the "Quality Education Act" - is being removed from the ballot by its sponsors. Supporters are apparently pleased with the action the Idaho Legislature took in last week's special session - adding more than $400 million into K-12.
As we reported along with the Tax Foundation, there were legal issues with the measure that could have led to court battles and a lot of confusion.
Furthermore, the measure would have raised Idaho's top income tax rate to among the highest in the country at 10.9% for those making more than $250,000 per year. While most states move to cut taxes, increasing Idaho's rates didn't make a lot of economic sense.
National tax policy experts had warned if the “Quality Education Act” was approved, Idaho’s business climate ranking would have fallen precipitously from 16th best now, to 35th.
It's also important to know that states that rely heavily on income taxes to support government revenue can find themselves on a roller coaster ride during inevitable economic downturns. While no revenue source is immune to economic waves, graduated income taxes are the most volatile taxes.
Now, the attention shifts back to lawmakers and where this $400 million+, as well as additional funding, will be spent. With this latest hike, Idaho has now increased education spending by 93% since 2016.
Total state enrollment numbers for 2021 show 302,910 students in Idaho public schools, meaning, with the latest increases in state funding, the total state allocation for K-12 is roughly $8,913 per student. Lawmakers have a responsibility to ensure these funds are spent wisely and with performance outcomes.
State numbers do not include local and federal dollars that flow into school districts. For example, the state’s largest school district, the West Ada School District, had a total 2020-21 revenue budget of more than a half billion dollars – which included a substantial beginning balance. The largest chunk of revenue came from the state, however, local taxpayers still pitched-in $85 million, and federal taxpayers supplemented the district with another $32 million. West Ada School District serves approximately 40,000 students, meaning for 2020-21, the district had almost $14,000 per student in resources.
Not all districts are the same. Not all have the same resources. Some will be higher or lower based on the approval or rejection of local property tax levies.
Still, education advocates and the state teacher’s union continually highlight the state budget numbers and conclude that Idaho isn’t spending enough.
Unfortunately, there is little correlation between spending more on K-12 and improving outcomes for students. For example, neighboring Washington state spends $18,135 per student, per year. For a classroom of 20 students, this amounts to $362,700. In the past decade, Washington has nearly doubled its K-12 spending. But student outcomes have not increased in the Evergreen State – in fact, they’ve declined. Only 30% of Washington students are now meeting statewide math standards, and less than half are meeting statewide English language arts standards.
Education Savings Accounts may be the best tool for ensuring every child has access to a quality education.
Fortunately, Idaho’s Department of Education has an entire section of its website dedicated to school choice. And Idaho is home to some impressive charter school options. But it falls short in allowing the more extensive options available in other states.
This year, the state of Arizona passed a measure that will give all families in the state a $7,000 Education Savings Account (ESA). An ESA is a tool that allows parents access to some or all of the dollars that were supposed to be allocated to their child’s education. It can only be spent on education-related items, such as school tuition or tutoring, but it gives many families more flexibility. It is especially helpful for special needs families and those struggling in a neighborhood school that might not be up to par.
The Idaho Constitution makes clear it is the duty of the state to maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools "complete with regard to every detail.”
Unfortunately, right now, Idaho’s public school system is incomplete. The detail it is missing is school choice. Right now, many Idaho children, including special needs children, have no choice but to attend the public school they are assigned, based on their zip code. These public schools may not suit the child’s needs. They are not "complete with regard to every detail."
To meet the full promise of the state constitution, Idaho lawmakers should move quickly to advance school choice legislation that is thorough and complete “in every detail,” allowing every child access to a high-quality education specifically suited for their needs.
In the last two legislative sessions, lawmakers have introduced several school choice bills. The most recent legislation – House Bill 669 – would have created Education Savings Accounts of roughly $6,000. The money could be spent on private education, tutoring, help for special needs students and costly learning materials. It failed in committee by one vote after members expressed constitutional concerns.
Idaho’s record surplus gives legislators the opportunity to bring Education Savings Accounts to Idaho, while supplementing the base of K-12 funding.
Fortunately, most Idahoans support advancing school choice options like Education Savings Accounts.
Do you support Education Savings Accounts (ESA’s)?
ALL IDAHO ADULTS
66%- Strongly/Somewhat Support
34% - Strongly/Somewhat Opposed IDAHO PARENTS Strongly/Somewhat Support - 75%
Strongly/Somewhat Opposed - 25%