News from the Hill

News from the Hill

I have been attending the Educational Funding Formula Legislative Committee meetings in Bismarck.  The reason I am doing this is that changes are coming to how schools are funded and one way or another it will affect us.  Some of the major talking points have been: at what point does a school become too small, should the state provide funding for transporting students out of district, and what is the state’s share in funding education locally?  A major push right now is to do away with something called transition minimums.  The shorthand version of this is that some school districts receive more per pupil than other districts.  We are one of those districts.  This would affect many schools and a good portion of them are smaller districts.  If you do away with this transition minimums, what happens to funding for these districts?

Some of the ideas kicked around include giving schools that are considered sparsely populated and size covers a large area additional revenue.  Another approach would be to provide brackets in which schools of certain sizes receive more funding per pupil.  After all a small district still needs math, science, and grade school teachers.  We simply do not have the option to become more efficient in this manner.  Can transportation aid help some of these districts off-set the expenses of getting students to school?  So far nothing too concrete has been talked about.

Model of a house and calculator.

Model of a house and calculator.

A major part of this discussion also involves property taxes.  As some of you may know, property taxes are what primarily funds a school locally.  For districts like ours, that are property poor, this still puts us at a disadvantage in raising additional dollars for education.  The mills levied by a district are directly tied to property valuations.  If a district has low valuations it will take more mills to generate the same number of dollars, even if otherwise the districts are similar.  There is also increasing pressure on our legislature to provide property tax relief. Across the state we are seeing voters express their desire to avoid property tax increases.  So, what will the legislature do to address these concerns?

I do not have answers to these questions but it’s important for small districts like ours to be a part of the conversation of how schools will be funded in the future.  Over 50% of the state’s population is located in 5 cities but over 95% of North Dakota is considered rural.  I believe this makes it hard to discount our rural population.  With organizations such as Small Organized Schools advocating for our rural districts, it is my hope the legislature can come up with some good answers to these questions.

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