The School Funding Interim Commission will meet April 4-5 in Helena to continue its assessment of K-12 school funding in Montana and discuss possible changes to the state funding formula.
As at its previous meetings the commission will focus its efforts on four main areas of concern related to funding Montana's basic system of public schools: facilities, employee recruitment and retention, district structure and equity, and special education.
Current state mechanisms for assisting districts with school facilities have received a lot of attention lately. The Quality Schools Facility Grant Program was not funded by the 2015 Legislature, and the commission was informed by the Legislative Fiscal Division at the January meeting that low revenue estimates for the state school facility and technology account mean that payments to schools this spring under the facility reimbursement program (aka “debt service GTB”) will likely be reduced. The commission will be looking at predictable and equitable funding mechanisms and ways to encourage districts to prioritize ongoing maintenance of infrastructure investments.
The commission has also received considerable testimony about the difficulty of hiring and retaining teachers and other school employees, especially in Montana’s many small, rural schools. The conversation surrounding this topic has included mentoring programs and the variability in health care benefit offerings.
While the topic of voluntary consolidation and/or unification of Montana's 400 EL, HS, and K-12 districts was discussed, the commission decided to examine the topic of district structure through the lens of taxation and revenue equity. One focus of the April meeting will be on mechanisms for equalizing the required BASE mills that are levied to support district general fund budgets. Currently some districts levy zero mills to support their BASE budgets, while others levy 50 mills or more.
As far as concerns regarding the funding of special education, the commission has determined to examine:
- adding the inflationary adjustment to the state special ed component of districts' general fund budgets;
- the idea of allowing 19, 20, and 21 year old students receiving special education to be counted for ANB purposes and therefore receive state funding; and
- the funding mechanism for the special education coops which serve the majority of Montana's small rural school districts.
The commission also received public comment regarding the level of state funding for gifted and talented education, which is $250,000 per year statewide for the 2017 biennium, and will be exploring options for funding gifted and talented programs.
For more information on the commission’s activities and upcoming meeting, visit the commission’s website at www.leg.mt.gov/sfc or contact Pad McCracken, commission staff at firstname.lastname@example.org or 406-444-3595.