This week provided two lengthy days of school funding talk in the Senate Appropriations committee meetings.
At the center of the discussion were proposed adjustments to the state aid funding formula, which Executive Director Wade Pogany summed up as three different solutions to one problem.
“We have a crisis in education,” Pogany testified in Senate Appropriations. “We need help.”
The crisis of course being the massive 8.6 percent funding cut to the per-student allocation for the 2011-12 school year that came a year after the PSA dollar amount was frozen. All told, schools were left in a $52 million hole and even after a 2.3 percent increase to the PSA this year, the PSA remains over $300 behind the level it was in 2009.
“All we’re asking, as school board members, is a solid conversation about where funding could go,” Pogany told committee members. “That’s all we’re asking.”
Three bills may have kick started the conversation Pogany was referring to.
Senate Bill 191: Provides the proposed three percent increase to state aid. The bill would increase the per-student allocation to approximately $4,626 for the 2013-14 school year.
“Any amount we put back into the formula will work us closer back to (pre-cut) point,” Sen. Larry Rhoden (29), the bill’s sponsor, said.
In addition, SB 191 would shift the current state-to-local effort ratio from 53.7 percent to 56.4 percent to relieve property tax payers.
“As we increase funding now, I think we should work towards restoring the former percentage of the burden the state paid,” Rhoden said.
Senate Bill 193: Changes the language of the state aid increase from “less” to “more” as it relates to schools receiving an annual percentage increase or the change in CPI-W. The bill does not set a cap on the percentage increase for state aid.
“Try something bold and dynamic and invest in our future generation,” Sen. Mark Kirkeby (35), the bill’s sponsor, urged committee members.
Kirkeby noted the bill would provide districts with the assurance that a three percent increase was going to come and would allow school boards to “sit down and plan, prepare and balance (their) budget for adequate funding.”
Senate Bill 196: Modifies the state aid increase to general and special education by adjusting increase to be based on the projected state general fund increase or CPI-W change, whichever is greater. The increase would be capped at six percent.
“There’s nothing guaranteed in state aid formula,” Sen. Larry Lucas (26), the bill’s sponsor, said. “(SB 196) takes the philosophy that in bad and good years in South Dakota, schools would share in those.”
Lucas noted that in addition to the stable funding the bill could provide for schools it could also be used to help narrow the gap in teacher salaries, which South Dakota currently ranks last in the nation in.
The administration opposed each bill; citing reasons that included, the state would be forced to fund anything over a three percent increase, enrollment growth increasing the state’s share, schools fared better in terms of funding percentage cut than other state agencies, having to make cuts to other programs and a lack of funding to support changes to the formula.
“There’s no money to cover it in the budget,” State Economist Jim Terwilliger said. Terwilliger noted Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s proposed budget for the 2014 fiscal year had a $1 million structural surplus and any ongoing increase would create a structural deficit in the budget.
Pogany said school boards are in limbo when it comes to planning for the future because the future of funding is unknown, which leaves their message for legislators unchanged.
“They (school boards) have tried to put in their savings account as much as they can just for the future,” Pogany said. “They’re trying to plan for the future and be as stable as they can. They don’t know from year-to-year where it’s (funding) going to go.”
“The message is the same, ‘we need help.’”
These bills, and others, will be acted upon at Tuesday’s (Feb. 19) Senate Appropriations committee meeting. For updates, check the ASBSD blog and bill tracker.
“Quotes” of Note
“The bill offers school districts that may need it, some relief on certain expenditures. Right now, with funding where it is for schools any flexibility helps.” – Executive Director Wade Pogany said about Senate Bill 194.
“We see capital outlay flexibility as really the only realistic option to maintain even basic education services.” Milbank Superintendent Tim Graf said in support of SB 194.
“The intent of this is to give local school boards maximum flexibility.” – Sen. Mark Johnston (12) said of Senate Bill 96.
“This matter’s been studied and studied and studied and we’re going to sit here in 30 minutes and decide.” – Rep. Timothy Johns (31) said about Common Core Standards.
“We very seldom play by our own rules. Right now, it’s (funding) beyond a crapshoot.” – Sen. Mark Kirkeby said during his testimony on SB 193.