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Helmut Schmidt, Published May 03 2013

School leaders react with disbelief, frustration after ND House kills K-12 funding bill

FARGO – The North Dakota House vote Friday morning to kill the K-12 education funding bill, and $714 million in property tax relief that went with it, was met with a mix of frustration and disbelief by local and state public school leaders.

“We’re frustrated. Early in the session we testified in favor of the bill,” said Jon Martinson, executive director of the North Dakota School Boards Association.

Martinson said Friday that his group supported the idea of the property tax buydown and was happy the bill had originally passed the House on Thursday night.

But the Senate did not take it up, and House lawmakers revoted on HB1319. That voted ended in a 46-46 tie, effectively killing it for the regular session of the Legislature.

The amount of property tax relief is the sticking point, Martinson said, with some House members wanting it be lower.

“Somebody is going to have to budge,” Martinson said. “The Senate hasn’t been budging at all on that number ($714 million). I just hope that they don’t decrease that amount too much,” to get House members to sign off.

The result could be an invitation to anti-tax groups, such as the one that supported Measure 2 in the June 2012 primary election, to return, he said.

Measure 2 “people will be back if there isn’t an adequate amount of relief there. I’m very concerned today,” Martinson said.

Measure 2 was handily defeated, with 77 percent of voters rejecting it. It’s goal was to eliminate property taxes in the state and replace them with money from oil taxes or other revenues.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s office issued a statement midafternoon Friday on the K-12 funding bill.

“We’re very hopeful that the House and Senate will be able to compromise on their differences. The ball’s in their court.”

Dakota Draper, president of the North Dakota Education Association, said he was “profoundly disappointed,” in the House’s decision.

“Too often during this legislative session, partisanship has won out over reason as gamesmanship has replaced policymaking,” Draper said. “Games should be played on the playground, they should not be played in the Legislature, especially when it comes to funding our state’s most important responsibility – the education of our children.”

“I am dumbfounded,” said Kay Kiefer, president of the West Fargo School Board. “I hadn’t really thought that it would be defeated.”

“I have got to believe that at the end of the session we’re going to have a funding bill for K-12 education of some kind,” Fargo School Board President Jim Johnson said. “It might be a long day and a long night.”

Johnson said he liked HB1319.

“It really had the state stand up to the plate and take up a significant percentage of what it costs to teach students,” Johnson said. “I thought that this bill (recognized) that the bulk of K-12 funding should come from the state.”

Doug Johnson, executive director of the North Dakota Council of Educational Leaders, said HB1319 could be resurrected between now and 7 a.m. Saturday if it is attached to another bill.

But HB1319 is big and complicated, so that is unlikely, Martinson said.

Or, the Senate could offer a compromise bill, Doug Johnson said.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen right now. They’re talking. They’re working on some compromise language,” he said of lawmakers.

The bill could also be resurrected if the Legislature goes into special session, he said.

“This is going to be a classic finish,” Johnson said. “I’ve never seen anything like this. It will be a real interesting. There’s lot of power politics going on behind the doors.”

HB1319 was crafted to provide property tax relief by increasing the state’s share of K-12 education funding, allowing school districts to lower taxes.

The bill would have raised the state’s share of per-pupil funding to $8,810 per student during the first year and $9,092 in the second year, which is about 80 percent of the cost to teach a student in North Dakota.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583