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Idaho funding for school facilities coming

Idaho Statesman
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A bill that will give school districts hundreds of millions of dollars to help them repair and replace their aging buildings cleared its final hurdle in the Legislature Thursday.

The bill — which will invest $1.5 billion in new funding and redirect $500 million over 10 years for school facilities across the state — was a key part of Gov. Brad Little’s State of the State address and passed in the House overwhelmingly. Senators on Thursday approved the bill in a 23-11 vote.

But some legislators raised concerns that the bill won’t fully solve the problem, favor urban districts and leave rural districts without the funding they need. Lawmakers also said the state doesn’t have a complete picture of the scope of the issue, in part because there hasn’t been a statewide facilities assessment in three decades.

Idaho school districts have for decades struggled to fix or replace their aging, deteriorating schools and build new ones to accommodate the state’s rapid growth. Over the past year, the Idaho Statesman and ProPublica have reported on how Idaho’s restrictive policies and the state’s reluctance to make significant investments in school facilities have led to students learning in schools with failing heating systems, leaking roofs, discolored drinking water and overcrowded classrooms.

Citing the stories, Little called to make funding for school facilities “priority No. 1.” He proposed putting $2 billion toward school facilities over 10 years, or $200 million per year.

The bill will create a new fund to allocate money to districts based on average daily attendance. School districts could choose to take the money in a lump sum or annually over 10 years.

Senators who supported the bill said that although it won’t eliminate the need for school districts to run bonds to build new schools, it marks a historic investment in school facilities and would start the process of fixing the issues school districts have faced for decades.

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