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Lawmakers brace for 'big lift' on Idaho public schools funding

The legislature is set to take a look at a proposal for a new formula for funding public schools in Idaho (CBS 2 photo)

The 2019 Idaho Legislature is barely two days old but the stage is already set for discussion of one of the biggest and most complex bills in recent years.

And it involves Idaho's most precious commodity -- our children

Listen carefully in the statehouse and you can almost hear the groan of lawmakers as they grapple with a new public school funding formula.

"It will be a big bill," said Rep. Wendy Horman. "It will be a heavy lift. It will come before the House and Senate education committees."

The Idaho Falls Republican has served as co-chair of an interim committee that, for the past several years, has been looking at new ways to fund public education.

"Our current funding formula was established in 1994, before the internet was around much, before charter schools, before online learning environments," Horman explained. "Over the years we've tried to adapt it for modern learning environments. It's at the point now where it's cracking under its own weight."

The interim committee has a video it uses to help people understand the dynamic.

"Under current law Idaho's funding formula is a complicated web of 35 different state line items," says the video's narrator. "Each with its own set of rules, regulations and mandates."

The interim committee is advocating a streamlined student-centered funding formula.

"Under this model, every student receives a base amount of funding per student," the video narration continues. "Additional money is provided for students who require additional resources: English language learners, low income students, those who require special education services, gifted and talented students."

House Speaker Scott Bedke says the proposed formula allows more local control and flexibility.

"Some of the benefits of that are it lets the money in a more nimble way follow the student through the way they're educated now," Bedke said.

But he also say some districts will get less money than before.

"That scares people," Bedke said. "Because you don't want to be in a school district that arguably gets less money. But we'll address that. There are hold-harmless provisions. When people get used to the (new) idea they'll like it better than the old one, which had to be twisted and manipulated to fit."

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