No other state spends less on school infrastructure per student than Idaho. As a result, many students, especially those in rural districts, deal with leaking ceilings, freezing classrooms and discolored drinking water. Some students have to miss school when the power or heat goes out.
School districts often can’t build or repair buildings because Idaho is one of only two states that require two-thirds of voters to approve a bond. Some districts have held bond elections several times only to see them fail despite having support from a majority of voters. But the Legislature has been reluctant to make significant investments in facilities. Administrators say they don’t know how they’ll keep their schools running and worry that public officials don’t understand how bad the problems are.
88% of superintendents we heard from mentioned that funding is preventing them from addressing facilities problems.
Districts have cobbled together funds to make some improvements over the years. Administrators said federal COVID-19 relief dollars allowed them to replace expensive HVAC systems and roofs. But that money is nearly gone.
Many superintendents said they felt hopeless about ever passing a bond to renovate or replace schools, especially since funding other educational needs is already a challenge. Districts also regularly ask voters to approve supplemental levies to cover some salaries and operating costs that go beyond state funding.
“Rural school districts can’t pass bonds to build new facilities,” said Todd Shumway, superintendent of the North Gem School District. “It only takes a few to defeat a bond.”
Not passing a bond means districts not only worry about maintaining their buildings, but also about what would happen if a gas line shuts down, the boiler stops working or the sewage system fails. And it means that as Idaho faces a teacher shortage, qualified educators can look across state borders at modern schools in better-funded districts — and decide to leave the state behind.