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Idaho's supplemental levy bill sets another record

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Posted at 8:45 AM, Jan 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-04 10:45:42-05

BOISE, Idaho — This article was written by Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News.

In the face of a global pandemic — and a district-by-district challenge to deliver education, in-person or online — Idaho school districts will collect $216.6 million in supplemental property tax levies this year.

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It’s the fifth successive year of record supplemental levies across the state.

In recent years, supplemental levies have become a key piece of Idaho’s education funding puzzle — and, increasingly, a flashpoint in the debate over the way the state finances its schools.

Administrators and trustees have long argued that supplemental levies are no longer “supplemental,” saying the one- or two-year levies are needed to cover day-to-day necessities and backfill state K-12 appropriations. But as legislators have pushed to tighten school election laws, they have pointed out that many districts run supplemental levy elections in March and August, when few voters go to the polls.

The Statehouse debate notwithstanding, the majority of supplemental levies pass, and pass easily, clearing the simple majority support needed for approval. Many supplemental levy elections are routine, as districts ask voters to renew taxes that have been on the books for years.

There are exceptions, however — driven, in part, by economic uncertainties.

In the spring, as the pandemic triggered record jobless claims across the state, voters in West Ada, Middleton and Mountain View rejected supplemental levies. West Ada and Middleton voters reversed course in August, however, passing proposals that were identical to the levies that had failed three months earlier.

All told, 92 of the state’s 115 school districts are collecting supplemental levies this year. The only change from 2019-20: Mountain View fell off the list, but Kamiah voters passed a levy that allowed the north-central Idaho district to reopen a shuttered middle school.

Here’s a breakdown of the state’s five largest supplemental levies:

  • Coeur d’Alene: $20 million.
  • Lewiston: $16.2 million.
  • West Ada: $14 million.
  • Nampa: $12.9 million.
  • Lake Pend Oreille: $12.7 million.

On the other side of the coin, Central Idaho’s Mackay district collects the smallest levy in the state, at $75,000.

Idaho Education News data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report.