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Idaho school districts have millions of dollars on hand. Are they really underfunded?

Idaho school districts have millions of dollars on hand. Are they really underfunded?

Kaitlyn Shepherd
September 2, 2022

Data show that the median public school district in Idaho has more than $3.2 million saved for a rainy day. With this much cash in reserve, increasing spending on the public school system is unwise and unnecessary. 

Earlier this month, the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s Center for American Education (CAE) released the Idaho K-12 LEAD Map, a new resource to help Idaho parents and residents look at the quality of their local public school district. The LEAD Map evaluates Idaho school districts based on student academic performance and the number of critical social justice (CSJ) incidents. It also tracks district spending per student; superintendents’ salaries; the number of and spending on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) personnel; and nearby alternative educational providers.

This week, the CAE added a new category of information, enabling Idahoans to see how much cash districts have in their reserve funds. It also shows how large these funds are when compared with a district’s annual budget.

Reserve funds, also known as “rainy day” funds, are funds that a school district is saving, rather than spending. Over time, reserve funds accumulate into large sums of money that a district can spend on future needs.

The data show that the median public school district in Idaho has $3.2 million in its reserves. The district with the largest amount in reserve is West Ada, which has nearly $137 million set aside. This amount represents around 36.4% of its total revenue for 2020-21. Meanwhile, Three Creek Joint Elementary District has a little over $60,000 set aside for a rainy day, the smallest of any school district. 

Some districts have more in their rainy-day funds than in their annual budget. In Prairie Elementary District, for example, the rainy-day fund is equal to 147.2% of the total budget of $199,269. Mackay District’s reserves are equal to 115.8% of its budget. Blackfoot District’s reserves, however, are equal to a modest 7.4% of its budget of $37.4 million.

Over the past two years, spending on Idaho’s education system has increased by 42%. The Legislature appropriated $2.341 billion for the public school system for Fiscal Year 2021. Two years later, it appropriated $3.318 billion.

Don’t expect that this money will satisfy schools, however; they will likely continue the perennial practice of asking Idahoans to entrust them with even more of their hard-earned money through a bond or levy.

It makes no sense to flood the education system with more money when districts are sitting on so much cash. It will only feed a monopoly that traps kids in their government-assigned schools. More money doesn’t produce better results. Even though the amount of money appropriated for public schools has increased by approximately $1 billion over the past two years, student academic achievement has remained stagnant or declined. 

Idaho must stop writing blank checks to its failing education system.

To view school district reserve fund balances, visit the Idaho K-12 LEAD Map at Leadmap.org.

Idaho Freedom Foundation
802 W. Bannock Street, Suite 405, Boise, Idaho 83702
p 208.258.2280 | e [email protected]
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