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TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published February 05 2013

North Dakota Legislature: Dalrymple pushes new K-12 funding formula

BISMARCK – In 2006, the North Dakota funding system for public schools was perceived as so unfair that school districts filed a lawsuit against the state demanding it be changed.

On Tuesday, Gov. Jack Dalrymple called a new proposal to fund K-12 education a significant piece of history in state education funding reform that will provide true equity, adequacy and tax relief for North Dakotans.

“This completes the task of achieving equity in school funding in North Dakota,” he said.

Dalrymple walked members of the House Appropriations Education and Environment Division and the Education Committee through much of House Bill 1319 on Tuesday to help illustrate how beneficial the new formula can be for students, school districts and taxpayers alike.

Sponsored by Rep. David Monson, R-Osnabrock, the bill was conceived after the state was facing the lawsuit from school districts.. The discussions turned into the Commission on Education Improvement, a 10-person committee consisting of lawmakers and superintendents who sat down to figure out funding and other issues.

As a result of the proposed formula, Grand Forks School District would see an additional $8 million for the 2013-14 school year. Fargo School District would receive an added $12.6 million and West Fargo would see $9.6 million more.

Dalrymple said the bill “achieves substantial property tax relief” although it should not be seen as a property tax relief bill.

Five years ago, the average taxable mill levy for school districts was 195 mills. The proposal would limit the general fund levy for any district to 60 mills.

“It’s a huge reduction in burden on local property taxpayers,” he said.

Local taxpayers currently are picking up 35 percent, or $3,047, of a $8,677 bill for the per student cost of education. Under the new formula, taxpayers would only spend 21 percent, or $1,998, of a $9,322 bill. In other words, the state’s share of education costs would significantly increase under the proposed formula and local school districts’ share would decrease.

Dalrymple said the new proposal is a very equitable piece of legislation for school districts, “Equity means equal financial resources behind each student,” he said.

He pointed adequacy for students and districts was also found using a 2008 study titled “Funding Schools Adequately in North Dakota,” a 150-page study by Allan Odden, Lawrence Picus, and Mike Goetz, which found a true dollar figure per student, he said.

“Per student payment we can honestly say is enough money to educate a student,” Dalrymple said. “Now we are approaching adequacy not just from a state standpoint but from state and local resources available.”

The new formula will multiply the weighted student units, a number based on the district’s enrollment and types of students, by a new weighted student payment rate of $8,810 for the first biennium year and $9,092 for the second year, which totalled equals the cost of education per student. This determines the cost of education for the district, also known as the state adequacy payment.

The local school districts jump into the formula then by multiplying 50 mills by the local tax base. This number is then added to 75 percent of other local revenues generated by the district, such as land sales.

If the total does not meet the state’s adequacy payment, the state will make up the difference from the Foundation Aid Program.

The bill also would increase minimum teacher salaries from $22,500 to $27,500 as an inflationary update, something that hasn’t been done in the past six or eight years, Dalrymple said.

Armand Tiberio, executive director for the North Dakota Education Association, supports most of the bill, but said the nationwide average base salary for teachers is $31,000 so the increase would have a minimum impact on the state.

“The current proposal impacts only nine school districts and little over 100 teachers,” he said. “If intent is to provide meaningful base that would attract high-quality teachers, I believe the base needs to impact more than half of the teachers in the state.”

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