- Associated Press - Monday, December 12, 2016

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Many of the programs intended to help students in Idaho’s public schools are not funded based on need or actual costs, state evaluators found in a new report released Monday.

The state’s nonpartisan Office of Performance Evaluations also found that the state lacks information on the total amount of money spent on these 22 programs at the school district and charter level.

The programs, which include literary proficiency, gifted and talented, academic advisers and others, totaled $165 million in state funding for fiscal year 2017. Evaluators did not review the formulas for teacher pay or discretionary funding, which make up the majority of Idaho’s approximately $1.5 billion education budget.

“Many of these individual formulas for these programs were established many years ago and there’s just cause for them to be revisited as needs within schools have drastically changed within that time,” said state evaluator Bryon Welch to lawmakers on the Joint Legislative Oversight panel.

The bipartisan oversight committee assigned the report to state evaluators earlier this year. The report was designed to help a separate legislative interim panel currently reviewing Idaho’s overall public education funding system with the intent of possibly reforming the system. The report will be presented to that interim committee on Tuesday.

This is the fourth school funding-related report evaluators have provided lawmakers since 2007.

According to the report, almost all of the 22 programs reviewed had some sort of absent or obscured information on the total costs. The report pointed out that this is partially because school districts and charters are not required to report total expenditures for the state funding they receive and nor do those schools have a uniform method of reporting their program spending.

Idaho’s special education program was particularly singled out in the report because of its multiple funding issues. Evaluators identified $294 million in federal and state funding related to special education students between 2014 and 2015, yet nearly 30 percent of the funding was not documented in statewide financial reports in that same timeframe.

“Legislators and other stakeholders cannot look to published revenue or expenditure reports for a complete picture of how much money was generated by, and spent on behalf of, students receiving special education services in districts or charters,” evaluators wrote in the report. “Reporting mechanisms, some driven by federal reporting requirements, have not been set up to capture the complexity of the funding system.”

Evaluators pointed out that there were multiple instances in which documented directions on funding contradicted state law. For example, an estimated four out of 10 students who received special education were not actually included in the funding formula for special education - as required by state law - but instead were being counted as regular students as directed by administrative rule.

Administrative rules have the same strength as laws, but are to be used to enforce state policies, not create new ones.

“As your report points out, Idaho’s formula is complicated, and in many cases, it is challenging to determine total expenditures per program and how expenditures are related to student needs. Any changes that are contemplated to the formula should enhance transparency and understanding of how state funding support students,” said Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter in a statement.

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