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Published January 08 2013

Forum editorial: Fix timing for school payments

One of the most practical and fiscally responsible changes North Dakota legislators can make this session is an adjustment in the timing of state per pupil payments to local school districts. The system now, while generally more generous than in the past, still has a built-in payment delay that is especially troublesome for districts experiencing rapid student population growth, such as West Fargo and, to a lesser extent, Fargo. For example, a growing school district might add several hundred students in one year, but the state per pupil payments for those new students is delayed because payments are based on the previous year’s enrollment. So the school is obligated to pony up the shortfall, which can add up to millions of dollars.

The problem is not new, but has received little attention from lawmakers, in part because most of them represent districts where schools have either been shrinking or static for years.

That’s about to change, big time.

The oil boom in the west is affecting schools, like everything else in oil country. Enrollments are increasing at unprecedented speed in Williston, Watford City, Stanley and dozens of other oil-impacted cities. The state payments delay that fast-growing eastern schools have been dealing with for years is now a developing problem for western Oil Patch schools, and even for some non-oil-country schools that are experiencing spillover from oil counties.

A payment timing change is a necessary and feasible adjustment in the way the state funds public education. It would not mean more money (other than additional per pupil payments caused by increasing enrollments), but would require lawmakers to solve a clearly fixable problem. It’s not rocket science. They can and should do it.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.

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