Thursday the Education Funding Committee held there second meeting of this interim. Being a member of the Education Commission of States, a research organization that studies educational policies, we invited them to report on what other states are using and gave us a comparison to our formula. They first provided some interesting statistic about North Dakota compared to our neighbors. As a state, we provide about 60 percent of the total cost of education with local contribution around 30%.
By Don Schaible
This is second to Minnesota at 65 percent state/ 29 percent local and with Montana at 47 percent state/40 percent local and South Dakota at 30 percent state / 55 percent local with the balance coming from Federal Programs. This is very good considering we do also address keeping taxes low compared to Minnesota. Total average cost per student in ND is $13,322 which is 14th in the nation and higher then are neighbors. (Minnesota $11,949 Montana $11,028 and South Dakota $8937). For years, we have heard that we were 50th or 49th in the nation for teacher salaries, but now we are 32ndnd in the nation at $51,472 for an average teacher salary so as a state we have made the commitment to fund education. North Dakota graduation rates are at 86.6 percent which is 17th in the nation which averages 83.2 percent and our graduation rates are higher than our neighboring states.
As with most state there was a down trend in our testing scores in Math and no change in our Reading scores. ECS believe this is because of the change that were made in standards testing. We also learned that that we compare to 33 other states in our funding formula which is set up in the same ways based on 4 basic themes. First we determine foundation/base amounts, we then count students and apply weight unit to that number, we then multiply that student number by the foundation amounts. Fourthly we then determine state and local share and finally we add outside funding (capital building projects, transportation, other services). Like most state our funding formula influenced by law suits that questioned if the formula is equitable and adequate.
“Equity,” or an equitable system, means that all communities –whether rich or poor –are taxed at a similar rate and have equal access to similar amounts of revenue per student. Equity is not the same as equality, it does not mean that every school district gets the same amount of funding. Some schools need additional funding to serve students with disabilities, to provide bilingual education, and to provide free and reduced-price lunches.
In a truly equitable system, every school district has enough funding to provide a quality education to all of its students. Hence forth why we have weighting factors and such to help provide the dollars needed to fund a quality education to all students. As we converse, we must remain aware of whether our conversations are about educational equity issues or taxpayer equity issues and whether it is true problems with the formula, or if they are problems that reside in the tax code and/or property assessment and valuation. What we are seeing is that we may not have a formula problem, but a few discrepancies that need to be addressed.
In my next article, I will explain the deep dive that the committee took into the founding formula that compared 6 school district the show the differences in property rich, property poor, rapid enrollment, declining enrollment and a little thing called in lieu of property tax. Please contact me if with your question or concerns.
Senator Don Schaible