Two proposals intended to prevent cuts to K-12 education won
approval Tuesday from the Senate Education Committee.
Senate Bill 152 softens the impact of the governor’s
proposed education cuts by increasing the percentage of local property taxes
used to fund schools. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center,
told lawmakers that adjusting the ratio of state and local funding would reduce
the proposed 10 percent cut to 5.6 percent without raising local property
taxes. In the process, the state’s share of the state education formula would drop
from 56 percent to approximately 53 percent.
Sen. Rhoden also took time to solidify the intent of the
legislation. After hearing some concern from schools with low property
valuation, he reassured committee members and education advocates that the bill
is intended to help all schools equally, regardless of the district’s local tax
ASBSD testified in support of the legislation, which was
also backed by the business and agriculture leaders.
The proposal passed on a 6-1 vote, with Sen. Elizabeth
Kraus, R-Rapid City, acting as the only dissenting voice. Sen. Kraus told
lawmakers that the state needs to prepare for future increases in Medicaid spending
by cutting education spending and local property taxes now.
Sen. Tim Rave, R-Baltic, called the measure a “good first
step to softening the blow without raising taxes.”
After voting to hold local property taxes steady, members of
Senate Education endorsed what they called a “creative” plan to stabilize the
per-student allocation. Lawmakers approved SB 126 on a 5-2 vote, sending a
second education funding measure to the full Senate for consideration.
The proposed law, pitched by Sen. Mark Johnston, R-Sioux
Falls, uses interest income from the Education Enhancement Trust Fund to create
an education stabilization fund. Schools would lend the state $10 million per
year in 2012 and 2013, reducing the state’s share of education funding while
the economy recovers. The state would repay schools starting in 2014.
The proposed law is the only plan that holds the per-student
allocation steady – a proposal that would allow K-12 education to recover from
proposed cuts much more quickly. As a trade-off, schools would be barred from
issuing new opt-outs for two years.
Education advocates reluctantly testified against the
measure, voicing the strongest objection to the prohibition on opt-outs. If
that provision was eliminated, educators would support the bill, they said. State
economist Jim Terwilliger also stood opposed, reminding lawmakers that the
governor prefers deep cuts to K-12 education.
Sen. Todd Schlekeway, R-Sioux Falls, asked legislators to
support the bill. He said the bill wasn’t perfect, but praised it for being the
kind of creative solution that taxpayers expect lawmakers to find.