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  • Writer's pictureAction Idaho

Lesson # 2: School Districts are Flush with Unspent Cash

Idaho school districts have large unspent cash reserves. Pouring more money into school districts that are already flush with cash is folly.

Reclaim Idaho’s initiative and Gov. Little’s special session gambit both promise to funnel more money into Idaho’s education system. Reclaim’s initiative would send increased income tax revenue directly to school districts. Gov. Little’s proposal would pour $410 million in sales tax revenue into two funds for education purposes.

Neither of these proposals is a wise use of public monies. Schools exist to educate children and to conduct other related tasks. Tasks are limited. Schools need as much money as it takes to accomplish their goals. Teachers and administrators need to be paid. Maintenance is necessary. Supplies must be purchased. Some districts must build buildings.

Most school districts run surpluses or have surpluses.

Each year, school districts report about their financial health to the Idaho Department of Education. This year’s summary shows that Idaho school districts are flush with cash.* School districts across the state have $1,135,782,770 in reserve funds as of June 30, 2021. That is well over $1.1 billion! The reserve funds in select school districts are below in a chart.

School districts are NOT operating on shoestring budgets. Teacher pay is not at all bad in Idaho. Average teacher pay for a 9 month contract is $52,046—that is nearly $70,000 averaged out over twelve months. The average entry-level salary is just over $39K for a nine-month contract--$52,000 over twelve months. Administrator salaries are much, much higher, and the number of administrators has increased greatly each passing year. The average Principal salary is over $106,000. The average school superintendent makes over $160,000 in Idaho.

Furthermore, the number of students in Idaho public schools has decreased from 311,981 students in 2019-2020 to 308,991 students in 2020-2021, despite the incredible influx into the state. More and more money serving fewer students is a recipe for having districts flush with cash.

Gov. Little’s idea of compounding the school district reserve funds with state funds held in a fund of sorts is marginally better than Reclaim Idaho’s idea of spending the money now. Perhaps, the Gov’s gambit can be used to kick the can down the road and, eventually, a sensible policy that diverts the Gov’s new funds away from frivolous spending in public schools. But neither idea suits a strong, independent Idaho.

Continuing to pour public money into school districts flush with reserve cash is folly. So is throwing more money into Idaho’s education system without any real accountability.

(Follow the links from here: Financial Information, Reports, and then Financial Summaries of Idaho Schools. All data are from individual school district reports.)