Policy Basics: Idaho Public Schools Investment

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Relieving pandemic-related strain on education funding and learning loss among students should be top priorities for decision-makers. Recommendations from a governor-appointed K-12 education task force in 2019 identified key investments and interventions that were in part interrupted by pandemic issues. Returning to these recommendations and roadmap would be a good way to address challenges facing students and teachers such as the growing student population, declining student spending, pandemic-driven learning loss, and teacher loss:

  1. Strengthen the stability of the K-12 education budget
  2. Build out and update the career ladder to elevate the teaching profession and retain effective educators
  3. Improve student achievement

In his State of the State Address, Governor Little laid out clear plans to address these concerns and more in his budget proposal. Of these, the Center recommends, in particular, the following in order to move the needle on urgent K-12 issues: 

  • Invest $43.7 million in the teacher career ladder from the General Fund 
  • Invest $145 million for enhanced teacher pay from the $330 million Public School Income Fund established in the 2022 Special Session  
  • Invest $97.4 million for classified staff pay from the $330 million Public School Income Fund established in the 2022 Special Session 
  • Invest $52.4 million in discretionary funding for local schools from the $330 million Public School Income Fund established in the 2022 Special Session 

Idaho lawmakers must continue with plans to invest in present-day education funding, offer more competitive teacher salaries and other types of support. These added investments will improve Idaho’s education system and strengthen students, teachers, and the state economy.

Per Student Funding Has Declined Since 2002; Investments Needed

A recommendation on enhancing K-12 budget stability in 2019 focused mostly on replenishing the Public Education Stabilization Fund (PESF). The PESF is used to soften budget cuts due to a recession or lean budget year. In 2018, the state drew down the fund to accommodate increases in student enrollment.[1]

While replenishing the PESF was a necessary part of the task force’s work then, overlooking current funding issues will only exacerbate long-term funding shortfalls. The subcommittee also failed to include in the final report its early recommendation to return and maintain K-12 education funding at historic levels. K-12 students receive less funding today than students did 20 years ago, which could disrupt public education objectives and worsen any future budget shortfalls.[2]

When adjusted for inflation, Idaho’s general fund support for public schools is lower in 2022 than in 2002. And with temporary federal funding set to end soon, increases to state K-12 funding will be required to maintain budget stability (See Figure 1).  For example, the Professional Development, Content & Curriculum, and Technology budgets for schools are currently being propped up by this temporary federal funding.[3] The line items were cut back in 2020, following a call from Governor Little to hold back five percent of the budget to prepare for a potential economic slowdown due to the pandemic.[4]

New state education investments will be especially important to combat the teacher and classified staff shortage, provide additional mental health resources and technology in schools, and continue to close the gap in learning loss. This fall, a new investment in education was decided by the legislature in a special session. $330 million from sales tax collections will be transferred to a K-12 public school fund. The legislature will decide how the money will be directed in the 2023 legislative session, which began January 9, 2023.[5]

Despite Salary Increases, Idaho Teacher Pay Currently Not Competing with Neighboring States

The task force’s Educator Pipeline Subcommittee recommended expanding the career ladder with base, entry-level salaries of $40,000, $50,000, and $60,000.[6] The subcommittee report found that, since the career ladder was implemented, educator retention has increased.[7] The base entry level salary was increased to $40,000 in 2021.[8] Despite this recent improvement to the teacher career ladder, Idaho’s teacher salaries have not recovered from cuts made during the Great Recession. The average teacher salary fell from about $56,195 in 2009 to $54,232 in 2021 in inflation adjusted dollars (See Figure 2). Idaho educators also make less than their colleagues in neighboring states. Idaho ranks seventh in teacher pay among its eight neighboring states, only ahead of Montana. Washington’s average teacher pay is 1.5 times higher than that of Idaho (See Figure 3). To retain teachers and compete with other states’ education systems, Idaho must build on its earlier expansions to the state’s teacher career ladder by increasing teacher pay, such as Governor Little’s proposal to invest an additional $43.7 million into the teacher career ladder and $145 million in enhanced teacher pay. 

In a Merrimack College survey, teachers were asked whether they feel they are paid fairly for the work they do: only 26 percent of teachers said yes – down from 35 percent in 2011. It is not surprising that teachers nationwide feel this way, given that national average teacher pay has increased by less than one percentage point, adjusted for inflation. The gap between the average weekly salaries of public-school teachers and other similarly college-educated employees grew from 1.8 percent in 1994 to 17 percent in 2015, a total 15.2 percent increase. [9]

In Addition to Pay, Teacher Retention Can Improve through More Respect and Support

Other survey research indicates that teachers desire increased public respect and school-based supports for their profession. A survey by the Idaho Education Association (IEA) found that, while compensation is the top concern for educators, other issues also affect teacher retention rates. Alarmingly, the IEA survey revealed that 47 percent of educators were considering leaving the profession in 2022. The most frequent reasons the respondents cited were low pay and poor benefits, a lack of respect and support for their profession, and a shortage of counselors and mental health professionals to address student mental and behavioral health concerns.[10]

These survey responses are not unique to Idaho. Merrimack College interviewed teachers from across the United States in their 2022 Teacher Survey and found similar trends.[11] The national survey found that while a majority, 56 percent, of teachers said they are somewhat or very satisfied with their jobs, only 12 percent said they were very satisfied with their jobs. That is down from 39 percent in 2012. And 44 percent of teachers nationwide say they are very or fairly likely to leave the profession in the next two years – up from 29 percent in 2011.

Studies show that teacher morale declined and stress skyrocketed during the pandemic. That is likely because the pandemic brought increased public attention to teachers due to conflict over classroom content, virtual learning, and other policies enacted to reduce the spread of illness. These factors almost certainly contributed to declining teacher morale. Less than half, 46 percent, of 2022 survey respondents said that the general public respects them and views them as professionals – down from 77 percent in 2011. When teachers were asked whether they would recommend the profession to their younger selves, only 45 percent said yes.

Targeted Investment Works: Idaho K-3 Students Recovering from Test-Measured Learning Loss

The task force recommended targeting K-3 literacy because improvements in reading have been shown to increase student achievement in other subjects. In recognition of literacy’s importance, the State of Idaho set an ambitious literacy goal of 100 percent and made investments in early literacy.[12] In the spring of 2022, the legislature approved $72 million for improving literacy by funding all-day Kindergarten programs, hiring reading coaches, offering summer programs, and through other options that support struggling readers.

As the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted learning, this focus ensured schools had more resources to roll back some pandemic effects and may have contributed to a relatively shorter recovery on scores. More than 68 percent of Idaho’s K-3 students tested at grade level on the spring 2022 IRI — up 3.1 percentage points from the previous year’s IRI results. If this trend continues, K-3 students are on track to return to pre-pandemic IRI scores within the year (See Figure 4).

Idaho also measures student achievement for older students in third grade through high school with the Idaho Standard Achievement Test (ISAT). When comparing pre-pandemic ISAT scores to 2022 ISAT scores, there is a mix in performance by subject and grade level. This suggests that further exploration is needed into what the underlying issues for older students’ achievement during the pandemic were. It is important to take the time to understand how the pandemic has affected older students’ achievement because Idaho has invested a significant amount into college and career readiness through the Advanced Opportunities program, a program where high school students can earn college or technical credits at no cost. In 2022, the legislature invested almost $30 million in the program. [13]

School Districts Continue to Rely on Supplemental Levies for Funding

School districts’ reliance on supplemental levies has increased by 80 percent over the past 20 years, resulting in increasingly divergent funding levels per pupil across the state (See Figure 5). In 2006, Idaho replaced about $260 million in maintenance and operations property tax levy (M&O levy) revenue for schools with $210 million in revenue from an increase to the sales tax.[14] Figure 5 demonstrates that after the M&O levy was replaced, school districts’ reliance on supplemental levies rapidly increased until they peaked in 2014 and leveled off in recent years, indicating that the trend may be here to stay.   Supplemental levies are property taxes that must be approved by the voters and last only two years before they need to be reapproved at the voting booth. Since these levies need to be reapproved, they are an unstable source of revenue for school districts.

Educational opportunity is driven in part by location and wealth when there is an overreliance on property values for school funding, which creates inequities in education funding.  Wealthy school districts can raise more money from supplemental levies at a lower tax rate than school districts with less property wealth. School districts with lower property wealth often must request a higher tax rate from residents that have lower incomes for the same amount of funding as their wealthier counterparts. Reinvesting at the state level would help put schools on a more even playing field.

Governor Little’s proposal to invest $52.4 million in discretionary funding for public schools is a step in the right direction. 

Idaho Lawmakers Must Invest More in Students and Teachers

Idaho has begun to take the necessary steps to recover from recession and pandemic-related strain on education funding. It is important to note that the recent influx of federal funding is temporary and additional state investment is needed to ensure that education is fully funded in the future. Now is the time to fully actualize and build upon the recommendations put forward in the task force’s report and legislation approved in 2022’s special session. Idaho lawmakers must increase present-day education funding, offer more competitive teacher salaries and increased support to teachers, and continue to invest in student achievement to combat learning loss.

It is encouraging that Governor Little laid out clear plans to address these concerns and more in his budget proposal. Especially in regard to investing $43.7 million in the teacher career ladder, $145 million for enhanced teacher pay, $97.4 million for classified staff pay, and $52.4 million in discretionary funding for local schools. These investments and more are what is needed to move the needle on urgent K-12 issues. 


[1] Idaho State Board of Education, “Our Kids, Idaho’s Future Final Report”, Accessed at: https://boardofed.idaho.gov/resources/appendix-4-k-12-budget-stability-report/

[2] Idaho State Board of Education, “Our Kids, Idaho’s Future Final Report – Appendix 4”, Accessed at: https://boardofed.idaho.gov/resources/appendix-4-k-12-budget-stability-report/

[3] Email from Idaho School Boards Association.

[4] Corbin, Clark, “IEA calls on Little to reverse education budget holdbacks”, Idaho Ed News, September 9, 2020, Accessed at: IEA calls on Little to reverse education budget holdbacks (idahoednews.org)

[5] Corbin, Clark, “Idaho Legislature passes tax cut, education funding bill in 2022 special session, Idaho Capital Sun, September 1, 2022, Accessed at: Idaho Legislature passes tax cut, education funding bill in 2022 special session - Idaho Capital Sun

[vi] Idaho State Board of Education, “Our Kids, Idaho’s Future Final Report – Appendix 1”, Accessed at: Final-Report-Appendix-1-Educator-Pipeline-Report.pdf (idaho.gov)

[7] Idaho State Board of Education, “Our Kids, Idaho’s Future Final Report – Appendix 1”, Accessed at: Final-Report-Appendix-1-Educator-Pipeline-Report.pdf (idaho.gov)

[8] Idaho State Statute, Title 33, Chapter 10, Accessed at: https://legislature.idaho.gov/statutesrules/idstat/Title33/T33CH10/SECT33-1004B/

[9] Merrimack College, “1st Annual Merrimack College Teacher Survey: 2022 Results”, Accessed at: WP-Merrimack_College-Todays_Teachers_Are_Deeply_Disillusioned_Survey_Data_Confirms.pdf (formsite.com)

[10] Idaho Education Association survey responses were provided via email.

[11] Merrimack College, “1st Annual Merrimack College Teacher Survey: 2022 Results”, Accessed at: WP-Merrimack_College-Todays_Teachers_Are_Deeply_Disillusioned_Survey_Data_Confirms.pdf (formsite.com)

[12] Richert, Kevin, “Reading realities: Idaho is far from its lofty literacy goals”, Idaho Ed News, December 16, 2019, Accessed at: https://www.idahoednews.org/news/reading-realities-idaho-is-far-from-its-lofty-literacy-goals/

[13] Office of the Governor, “FY 2022 Budget Activity Summary”, Accessed at: fy22-budget-activity-summary.pdf (idaho.gov)

[14] Richert, Kevin, “Tax shift of 2006 adds up to tax increase,” Idaho Ed News, August 25, 2016, Accessed at: https://www.idahoednews.org/news/tax-shift-2006-adds-tax-increase/

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