April 5, 2012 –
Read about victory below. Good for MQEC — but note that without the able and committed leadership of Attorney General Steve Bullock, there would have been no deal at all.
Schools get $4.6M as state settles suit
By MIKE DENNISON IR State Bureau | Thursday, April 5, 2012
Montana public schools will get the $4.6 million increase in state funding they’d expected this year, thanks to a settlement filed Wednesday that solved a budgeting and political dilemma.
The settlement, between the state and a coalition of schools and education groups, says schools will get a 2.43 percent increase in state funding that was approved by the 2011 Legislature.
Part of the increase had been scheduled to be reduced, after Gov. Brian Schweitzer in May 2011 vetoed an unrelated bill whose death triggered language cutting the increase.
“(We’re) hopeful that this settlement will help mitigate some of the budget pressures our members [all school districts in fact] are facing for the upcoming school year,” said Mark Lambrecht of the Montana Quality Education Coalition, which filed suit last year to enforce the increase.
Attorney General Steve Bullock’s office negotiated the settlement with MQEC, which is the group behind the 2002 lawsuit that successfully challenged Montana’s public school-funding system as inadequate.
The settlement “reflects the Legislature’s obligation to adequately fund quality public schools,” Bullock said in a statement Wednesday.
“The terms of the settlement will provide Montana schools with an additional $4.6 million, which represents the full adjustment for inflation specified in Montana law — and that’s good news for students and schools throughout our state,” he said.
The 2011 Legislature passed a bill that increased state funding for public schools by 2.43 percent this year and also allowed schools to increase their budgets by a similar amount and thus raise more money from local taxpayers.
Yet lawmakers also inserted language in the bill that said if money in House Bill 316 wasn’t approved, the increase would be reduced. HB316 transferred $9 million from various earmarked revenue sources into the state treasury, such as tourism and mining tax money, to help balance the 2012-13 state budget.
Schweitzer vetoed HB316, saying the tourism funds shouldn’t be diverted when the state treasury was flush with money. He also criticized Republican lawmakers for tying the two issues together.
MQEC sued the state last year, saying that the inflationary increase of state money for schools is required by state law. That increase — or lack of it — also sets the ceiling for local school budgets.
Wednesday’s agreement, filed in state District Court in Helena, said the 2.43 percent inflationary adjustment will occur this year and become the schools’ new base budget.