K-12 public schools in Idaho enroll over 275,000 students, with 40% in poverty, 6% learning English, 19% minorities, and annual expenditures of about $1.9 billion. (Most recent NCES data)
The Idaho Supreme Court found, in a series of decisions dating back to 1993, that the state constitution does not require uniform education funding, but that the constitution’s "‘thorough schools" provision requires the state to provide "facilities that offer a safe environment conducive to learning."
In Idaho Sch. for Equal Educ. Opportunity v. State (ISEEO V), decided in 2005, the Idaho Supreme Court ordered the legislature to devise a constitutional method of funding the construction, repair, and replacement of school facilities to ensure that schools offer a safe environment conducive to learning. The case has now been removed from the court’s docket.
In 2008, a federal trial court dismissed Kress v. Copple-Trout. In this case, the plaintiffs requested a declaration that the state had violated its constitutional duties with respect to educational funding when the legislature did not comply with the court’s order in ISEEO V. However, the court found that there were procedural reasons it could not take this action.
In Idaho Sch. for Equal Educ. Opportunity v. Evans (ISEEO I) in 1993, the Idaho Supreme Court held that while the term "uniform" in the state constitution’s education article did not require equality of education spending, the term "thorough" did guarantee students a certain level of education.
The court further defined this "thorough" education in 1998 in ISEEO III, stating that the "thoroughness" mandate of the state constitution requires the state to "provide a means for school districts to fund facilities that offer a safe environment conducive to learning."
Following that decision, the trial court, in 2001, held that the state’s system of capital funding for school facilities was constitutionally deficient because of its exclusive reliance on local property taxes and bond levies to fund major repairs and replacement of dangerous structures.
In 2005, in ISEEO V, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s conclusion and ordered the legislature to develop a facilities funding system that would meet constitutional requirements.
In 2002, the trial court appointed a special master to identify the deficient school facilities across the state, but the appointment was stayed and never went forward. The state legislature attempted to abolish the pending suit through restrictive legislation, but the Idaho Supreme Court ruled the legislature’s actions unconstitutional because the legislation had been designed specifically to eliminate the pending suit.
Plaintiffs have been unsuccessful in further attempts at litigation seeking remedial court orders to compel legislative action enforcing the creation of new funding schemes.
For more detailed information, email Education Justice.
"The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it shall be the duty of the legislature of Idaho, to establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools." Idaho Const. art. IX, § 1.
In Thompson v. Engelking, the Idaho Supreme Court declined to establish education as a fundamental right since the language in the constitution’s education article is not worded as a direct command of the people or the state, and instead "mandates action by the Legislature. It does not establish education as a basic fundamental right." 537 P.2d 635, 648 (1975).
Later, in ISEEO v. Evans (ISEEO I), the court again found that "education is not a fundamental right because it is not a right directly guaranteed by the state constitution." 850 P.2d 724, 733 (1993). The court also established that "the uniformity requirement in the education clause requires only uniformity in curriculum, not uniformity in funding." It found that uniformity in funding was not required because the constitution "does not guarantee to the children of this state a right to be educated in such a manner that all services and facilities are equal throughout the state," and it agreed with a Washington decision in which a uniform education was interpreted to mean one that "enable[s] a child to transfer from one district to another within the same grade without substantial loss of credit or standing." 850 P.2d 724, 730-31 (internal citations omitted).
The court, in ISEEO v. State (ISEEO III), interpreted the "thoroughness" mandate of the state constitution to require the state to "provide a means for school districts to fund facilities that offer a safe environment conducive to learning…" 976 P.2d 913, 914 (1998).
Idaho does not have a state-funded preschool program but does provide a small state supplement for Head Start.