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House Bill 790 — Literacy, kindergarten, levies

House Bill 790 — Literacy, kindergarten, levies

Anna Miller
March 21, 2022

Bill Description: House Bill 790 would modify how the existing $26.1 million of literacy funding and governor’s proposed $46.6 million in ongoing literacy funding is distributed to public schools to allow for taxpayer-funded full-day kindergarten programs. House Bill 790 would also require that the purpose and amount of supplemental levies be disclosed on each ballot and appear above the relevant question. Finally, the bill would mandate that school boards report on their annual levy revenue and the purposes for which it was used.

 Rating: -3

Does the bill expand the existing government monopoly on education and shrink family and student choice or agency? (-) Conversely, does the bill expand the ability for families and students to choose the educational options that best meet their needs free of government intervention or coercion? (+)

House Bill 790 would increase spending by an estimated $46.6 million for taxpayer-funded full-day kindergarten programs in public schools across Idaho. The amount of money schools receive would be based on two factors. Half of the funding would be “based on average full-time equivalent enrollment of students in kindergarten through grade 3.” The other half would be “based on the number of kindergarten through grade 3 students who move a full level or who are proficient from the spring-to-spring administration of the statewide reading assessment.” Schools that currently do not offer full day-K could choose whether or not to expand their programs to provide all-day services and receive this additional literacy funding. This is a direct expansion of the government monopoly over education. 

Some school districts already offer full-day kindergarten programs. Many of those programs have secured funding from private sources. Using private funds to support full-day kindergarten is a reasonable way to test out the demand for and results of the program without imposing costs on taxpayers. For two years in a row, the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation has given a $1.5 million grant to the education nonprofit BLUUM to fund an all-day kindergarten pilot program at 17 different charter schools. Another example occurs in the Boise School District, where 20 out of 32 elementary schools offer full-day kindergarten by charging parents up to $250 per month in student tuition. This strategy maximizes parental choice and ensures such programs will not be maintained or continued unless parents see improvements in academic achievement. 

Enacting publicly funded full-day kindergarten across the state will spend millions of taxpayer dollars in a program whose benefits disappear by third grade. Once these programs are created, the state must figure out how to continue subsidizing them for subsequent years, and the cost to taxpayers could escalate. Parental choice would be restricted and the educational marketplace would be hampered by a growing government monopoly.


Does the bill allow schools to be more flexible, improve feedback mechanisms, and decentralize decisions to the family or individual level? (+) Conversely, does the bill add to the existing education bureaucracy? (-)

House Bill 790 adds to the existing education bureaucracy by encouraging the expansion of full-day kindergarten programs across the state. Subsidized full-day kindergarten programs will not benefit families; rather, more government involvement in education will only weaken them. Parents who choose not to send their children to full-day kindergarten or who choose not to have children will be forced to subsidize the burden for others. Therefore, increasing spending for full-day kindergarten raises the cost of stay-at-home parenting and imposes a higher financial burden on those who choose not to have children. 


Does the bill decrease barriers to entry for teachers and other education professionals or services, thus incentivizing entrepreneurship and increasing the supply of options for education services in the marketplace? (+) Conversely, does the bill create barriers to entry into the education marketplace? (-)

House Bill 790 creates barriers to entry for private providers by expanding the government’s role in education with public programs that will crowd out private providers, reducing the options available to families. 

This expansion of the education monopoly will hamper the marketplace and drive up prices for private alternatives parents may currently be using for their child’s education and care instead of public all-day kindergarten. Currently, Idahoans have many choices for child care and other education programs to fill the second half of a kindergarten school day, such as the YMCA or Boys and Girls Clubs. Many two-parent working homes rely on extended family or friends for help with after-school care as well. Parents seeking other options will find their choices among alternative education options are limited and worse as the government assumes more control over the education sector.


Does the bill finance education based on the student rather than the institution? (+) Conversely, does the bill finance education based on an institution or system? (-) 

House Bill 790 would increase state education spending by an estimated $46.6 million. This money would be allocated to public school districts through changes in the literacy funding formula to ensure schools have funding for full-day kindergarten students. 

House Bill 790 incentivizes school districts to increase the amount of time students spend in the public school system. But it is a legitimate question to consider whether the content and quality of the current system, rather than insufficient seat time, is the reason some students fall behind. According to the Nation’s Report Card, only 37% of Idaho 4th graders tested proficient or better in reading, and only 43% tested proficient or better in math. If existing seat time is not producing high quality academic results, how could more hours in those same classrooms lead to increased academic achievement for struggling students? 

Children struggle academically because schools provide a poor educational foundation that is not suited to their needs, not because they need more seat time in school. 

Before spending tax dollars on extending school hours, public officials must improve the existing academic rigor of our schools and allocate the $10,838 of Idaho’s per-student spending more efficiently and effectively. Currently, less than 3% of operating dollars are allocated to schools based on the number of students. 

By sending millions of dollars of additional spending to public schools to establish full-day kindergarten programs, whose benefits have been shown to disappear by third grade, House Bill 790 funds systems rather than students. 


Analyst Note: Incorporating millions in literacy intervention through changes in the literacy funding formula makes it much harder to decrease such funding going forward if it does not produce results. Currently, JFAC has considerable discretion to decrease the amount allocated for literacy intervention with 11 votes.


Does the bill create more transparency or accountability in public education institutions? (+) Conversely, does the bill reduce transparency and accountability in such institutions? (-)

House Bill 790 would require election officials to include a distinct disclosure on ballots, stating the purpose and amount of supplemental levies. The disclosure would need to be detailed and understandable, and it would need to appear immediately above the relevant question on the ballot. Courts would be required to invalidate any supplemental levy if the ballot question was not accompanied by this disclosure.

Adding a detailed and accessible disclosure about the purpose and amount of supplemental levies aims to increase transparency in public education institutions by giving voters a clearer picture of how the funds will be used and whether they want to authorize the levy. However, the efficacy of including such a disclosure is unclear. Some counties, including Ada County and Kootenai County, already include similar disclosures embedded in their ballot questions. Separating these statements from the ballot question could represent a slight improvement in transparency but would not be a major improvement from current practice. 

In addition, House Bill 790 would require each school district board of trustees to “annually publish … a summary of levy revenues and the items for which such revenues were used.” Districts would only be able to use levy funds for the purposes identified in the ballot disclosure.

By requiring school boards to annually report on levy revenue and the purposes for which it was used, House Bill 790 increases transparency and accountability in public education institutions. Doing so allows voters to see where the money is going and helps ensure that the revenue was for the purposes stated in the ballot disclosure. 


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