Spelling it out: Bonds and Levies

If you’re an Idaho voter, chances are that you’ve seen bonds and levies on the ballot at some point – or will in the future.

And if so, that means the local school district is asking taxpayers like you to supplement its state and federal dollars with property taxes. Ultimately, it’s up to local patrons to decide if they want to give their local school district more money.

This resource aims to demystify bonds and levies and help you be more informed the next time you cast your vote.


What are they?

These are like IOUs that financial institutions sell, and proceeds go back to the school district. If voters approve a bond, an increase on their property taxes helps pay off the principal and interest on the loan. 

What do they pay for?

Bonds pay for major capital improvements, like building a new school or renovating/remodeling an old building.

A 2022 legislative audit found that “Idaho spends the least on school buildings annually compared to neighboring states. Additionally, Idaho lacks the state-level programs and agencies of neighboring states that assist districts with capital funding and planning of their buildings”

Do they go on the ballot and if so, what’s the needed approval rate?

Yes. A 2/3 supermajority (66.67%) is required to pass a bond. A 2022 legislative audit found that “the current two-thirds vote threshold poses a significant barrier to bond approval.”


What are they?

Levies are a property tax that are meant to pay for specific, one-time district needs. There are a number of different types of levies.

What do they pay for?

It depends on the type of levy. But it’s worth noting that new legislation requires that districts specify in detail, on ballots, what levies will be used for. 

  • Maintenance and operations levies can pay for a wide variety of expenses, including salaries, materials, books, extracurricular activities, etc. Emergency levies pay for the cost of students who increase a district’s enrollment numbers from the previous year. For example, if a district has 50 more students that it did the previous year, this levy will help pay for those students. 
  • Tort levies pay for a school’s liability insurance. 
  • COSSA levies pay for COSSA services used in a few small districts, including Homedale, Notus, Parma, Wilder, and Marsing. COSSA is a public school cooperative that provides the districts’ special education, career-technical, and alternative education needs. 
  • Tuition levies pay tuition for students who must attend school in other districts than their own because the services they need aren’t offered. For example, the Swan Valley school district only provides pre-K-8 education, so their students go into Wyoming or other Idaho districts for their 9-12 education. 
  • Judgment levies pay for litigation costs when a district is sued. 
  • Plant facilities levies go toward updates and repairs like remodels, fixing bathrooms, adding a new boiler, or other such facility needs. 

Do they go on the ballot and if so, what’s the needed approval rate?

Once again, it depends on the type of levy.


  • Maintenance and operations levies usually go on the ballot and require a simple majority of 50% plus one vote to pass.
    • There are some exceptions. Districts that were in place before Idaho was a state are grandfathered out and can impose these levies without a vote. Those districts include Boise, Lewiston, Swan Valley, and Emmett. But just because they can doesn’t mean they do.
  • COSSA levies require 66.67% approval to pass
  • Plant facilities levies are a bit different. The percentage needed for them to pass depends on the amount asked for and could require 55%, 60%, or 66.67% approval


  • Emergency levies, tuition levies, judgment levies, and tort levies do not have to go before voters.

Frequently Asked Questions

But isn’t the Legislature constitutionally required to fully fund education?

The Idaho constitution says this: “... 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 code includes a definition of what a thorough public education system entails.

What about the 2005 Supreme Court ruling that deemed Idaho’s school funding plan unconstitutional because it left building costs up to local taxpayers?

Rep. Steve Berch, D-Boise, told EdNews’ Kevin Richert in 2022 that “state leaders have never taken seriously” that ruling. Most school districts still rely heavily on local taxpayers to cover the building and facility costs. 

For more information, check out House Bill NO. 743, which provides a good history of public school facility financing.

What about charter schools?

Charter schools are not allowed to put levies or bonds on a ballot. Instead, each charter school gets an annual building allocation from the state. And they often turn to other avenues, like grants, to pad their budget for other needs. 

Doesn’t more than 50% of Idaho’s budget already go toward education? Why do school districts still need more money?

While Idaho does already allot a larger portion of its budget to education than most states, its overall budget is also smaller than most states. Schools need more money to close the gap on teacher salaries, facility and maintenance costs, and more.

Doesn’t the state’s bond and levy equalization fund help pay for some of these needs?

Qualifying districts (which tend to be more economically disadvantaged) are eligible for state assistance to offset the community costs of levies and bonds. Currently, 72 districts are carrying long-term bonds and 55 are receiving bond levy equalization monies, which total out to $20.4 million. 

What happens to the bond money if it isn’t all used?

Most districts carefully calculate their needs before putting a bond on the ballot, so excess funds are unlikely. If there were any, it would remain in the district’s budget until more capital/building/facility needs arise.

Data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report.

Have something you'd like spelled out?

Drop us a line