Our school children deserve safe facilities. And after decades of letting buildings crumble, the Republican supermajority finally has a proposal. But there’s a catch. As I explained to my sixth grader on our walk to school, the plan also cuts $60 million annually from the revenue stream that funds school operations. Her response summed it up well, “That sounds counterproductive.” Indeed, the bill helps repair facilities, but it’s a step backward in terms of our ability to support education.

The most beneficial part of House Bill 521 would make $1 billion available over the next decade for construction, renovation, and maintenance. This could mean repairing the wing of a Pocatello high school that was gutted when faulty electrical wiring caused a fire. Additionally, the legislation adds funding to a pot created by property tax legislation last year. These dollars largely pay down existing bonds and levies, allowing the few dollars leftover to be used for current facilities needs.

Analysts have not yet produced reliable numbers for how each district will be impacted, even as the bill advances. What’s clear is that the distribution is insufficient and inequitable. Valley View Elementary in Boundary County needs close to $20 million to replace an elementary school where a roof caved in, but will likely receive only a fraction of that. Last year West Ada failed to pass a $500 million bond to meet their building needs. The district might receive 40% of that amount.

The bill arbitrarily caps the bond funds that districts that pre-date statehood can receive. This clearly targets Boise, the only district impacted. Boise Schools will consequently receive half the funding they would have received under equal treatment.

While providing insufficient funding, the bill also makes it harder for school districts to fill the gap. Their option for doing so is through bonds and levies and the bill eliminates their option to hold these elections in August. This hit comes after Republican lawmakers nixed the March elections last year. Communities will have dwindling opportunities to pass funding measures.

Also damaging is the upside-down tax package in the style Republican legislators have been passing for years. Through a reduction of the income and corporate tax rate from 5.8% to 5.695%, a family earning $80,000 annually will see $53 in savings, while a household bringing in $1,000,000 will receive $1,019. And a corporation will continue to pay a lower tax rate on its profits than the 6% sales tax Idahoans pay when they buy food, diapers, medicines, and other necessities.

Idaho students deserve quality facilities, without having to swallow a bitter pill of slashed revenue for our schools’ future, inequitable investments, and lopsided tax policies.


Lauren Necochea
Idaho Democratic Party Chair