Major school funding bill advances

March 4, 2013 / Comments (0)




SB 175, sponsored by Sen. Llew Jones, is the k-12 school funding bill of this session – and it passed the Senate Feb. 23. Now it must pass the House.


Here’s what SB 175 does:

  • Increases funding for schools to improve academic achievement for Montana’s children.
  • Reduces local property taxes.
  • Aligns the success of those who develop our natural resources with the success of our public schools.
  • Ensures that school districts and taxpayers in oil and natural gas impacted areas have the resources needed to address such impacts.
  • Protects the public’s investment in school facilities and provides  a funding source to restore the public schools that will serve the next generation of Montana’s children.

Read more reasons to support SB 175 here.


Montana’s entire public education community has united around SB 175 and will stay united.


MEA-MFT has been working on the bill along with the Montana School Boards Assoc., Montana Rural Education Assoc., Montana Assoc. of School Business Officials, School Administrators of Montana, and Montana Quality Education Coalition to support.


The bill has received tremendous bipartisan legislative support. 


Unfortunately not every legislator likes big, innovative, problem-solving ideas. We anticipate a number of amendments will be offered to trim, delay, and confuse what SB 175 intends to do, and perhaps worse of all to amend SB 175 into yet another charter school bill. 


SB 175 has a long road ahead of it. Please be ready to ask your legislators to support it.


News stories follow:


School bill survives battle in the Senate

By Kristen Cates – Great Falls Tribune – February 23, 2013


HELENA — Senate Bill 175, which would dramatically increase K-12 education funding through a combination of increased oil and gas revenue while decreasing the need for local property taxes, passed 33-16 through the state Senate on Friday.


There were 10 proposed amendments to the bill that Sen. Llew Jones, R-Conrad, is carrying. Each was introduced by a few senate Republicans, and lively debated during the near hour and- a-half long session. With each amendment introduced, though, there were legislators from both sides of the political aisle standing up to defend the bill.


“I’m very pleased this bill is continuing to move forward,” Jones said after the session. “The bill is about student achievement.”


SB 175 calls for increased spending for schools statewide to the tune of $120 million over the next biennium. The bill calls for disbursing more evenly the oil and gas revenue that flows into oil rich school districts by capping their revenue at 130 percent of their general fund budget, then distributing the remaining revenue to districts immediately surrounding the oil and gas development that are feeling the “boom” of the impact through increased enrollment, but are getting the financial support needed to fund the increases.


Additionally, the bill calls for 50 percent of the oil and gas revenue that is distributed directly to the state’s general education fund already be given to schools across the state to help reduce the amount of local property tax needed to fund the base budgets for schools. With oil and gas production booming right now, supporters of the bill argue that it could mean at least $24 million annually in property tax relief statewide.


Though there was talk of Sen. Dee Brown, R-Hungry Horse, introducing an amendment that would include public charter schools as part of SB 175, the amendment was never introduced.


Instead, Republican senators such as Art Wittich of Bozeman, Scott Sales of Bozeman, Edward Walker of Bill¬ings and Jason Priest of Red Lodge, focused their proposed amendments on changes that would have required the natural resource development fund — the fund where oil and gas tax revenues will be distributed to schools — be changed to the fossil fuels extraction fund.


There was another proposal to require local school districts to vote on whether to accept the natural resource development payment. By doing so, Priest said it would allow for transparency between school boards accepting revenue from natural resource development and people in the community who oppose expanded natural resource development.


“(The school boards) will send the signal, well actually, we do in fact like natural resource development,” Priest said.


Sales wanted to remove language regarding the statewide K-12 data task force that the bill proposes will be charged with overseeing and implementing better technology to better track students for improved achievement.


Sales said SB 175 proposed spending $200,000 over the next biennium on something that didn’t seem necessary.


“A buck is a buck,” Sales said. “This bill spends a lot of them.”


Wittich argued that SB 175 would complicate an already complicated school funding formula, would increase spending too much and would take away more local control away from local school districts when it comes to funding.


“We have a continual shift to centralized school funding and this bill makes it worse,” Wittich said. “This idea that everyone wins is a faulty promise.”


Opponents argued that when oil and gas production plummets, property taxes will have to go back up.


But Jones said enough safeguards have been put into the bill to assure that even though oil and gas production may bust, there will still be permanent property tax relief of some kind.


Priest said the cost of the $120 million increased spending plan far outweigh the savings he said is being proposed for local taxpayers.


“The tax savings amount up to a case of Rainier (beer),” he said.

After 2-hour debate, divided Senate endorses sweeping school-funding bill

Supporters defeat 10 proposed amendments




The Montana Senate endorsed a sweeping, controversial school-funding bill Friday that ups

state money for public schools while also cutting local school property taxes across the state.


The chamber’s minority Democrats and about half its Republicans teamed up to endorse the bill, 33-16, setting up a final vote on Saturday that likely will send Senate Bill 175 forward to the House.


The vote came after two hours of sometimes emotional debate, as supporters of the measure beat back 10 proposed amendments, most of which they said were intended to damage the bill’s chances of success.


But, in the end, the bipartisan coalition held together and advanced the bill, which raises state funding for public schools by $60 million over the next two years and cuts property taxes about $40 million over the same period.


SB175, sponsored by Sen. Llew Jones, R-Conrad, uses oil-and-gas funds to offset the property-tax cuts, directs more natural-resource funds to school maintenance projects, provides money for curriculum improvements, and spreads local oil-and-gas revenue across more districts impacted by oil-and-gas development.


Jones said the bill is the product of more than a year of him and others visiting schools across the state, listening to their concerns and coming up with a comprehensive package to address those concerns.


“I could go on and on,” Jones said, as he recounted stories from the many school districts he visited, “but the point is it didn’t matter, from east to west, or large schools to small schools … it was all about student achievement. …


“What they all wanted was the same: They wanted to do the best for student achievement.”


SB175 opponents, which included leaders of the Senate’s Republican majority, said the bill is too expensive and commits more money to schools than the state can afford.


Senate President Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, said approving the bill is endorsing $100 million in new spending before the Legislature addresses multiple other budget obligations, from public-employee pension liabilities to rising health-care costs to funding the university system.


“That’s going to take real money,” he said. “This bill spends a lot of money, but it’s a bill we can’t pay. And that’s why I’m going to have to vote ‘No.’”


Proposed amendments to the bill ran the gamut, from one that would delay its implementation for two years to others that would change the tax relief or force school districts to have a public vote on whether to accept more money from oil-and-gas development.


Sen. Jason Priest, R-Red Lodge, offered the amendment requiring the school district vote on accepting more oil-and-gas money, saying many of them have spoken out in the past against natural-resource development.


“This is a great way to educate the public on the role that natural resources play in funding schools,” Priest said.


His amendment went down on a 15-34 vote, and Sen. Taylor Brown, R-Huntley, a supporter of the bill, said later the bill already sends a message to people about the importance of oil-and-gas and other resource development.


“It’s saying natural resources do matter … and we’re glad we’re using them wisely, to fund education for our kids,” Brown said. “This is an historic moment; I urge you to support this bill.”


Priest also tried to amend the bill to say if any part of it is found unconstitutional, the whole bill is invalid.


That prompted a pointed response from Jones, who said he didn’t have much respect “for those folks who just want to make statements.”


“Maybe there is a period out of place,” he said sarcastically. “Maybe there is a line out of place. How about if we address that?”


The amendment failed on a 9-40 vote.


Priest, who voted against the bill, said later that the bill is mostly about increasing spending on schools and “there is almost nothing in it attractive for the taxpayer.”


Jones disagreed, and read off the amounts of tax relief that would flow to various cities — $2.7 million in Yellowstone County, for example — and even for some individual businesses, by name.


All Democrats present for the vote supported SB175. Sen. Larry Jent, D-Bozeman, was excused for the day.


Republican senators voting for the bill were Elsie Arntzen of Billings, Ron Arthun of Wilsall, Taylor Brown, Ed Buttrey of Great Falls, Jennifer Fielder of Thompson Falls, Jones, Dave Lewis of Helena, Terry Murphy of Cardwell, Alan Olson of Roundup, Jim Peterson of Buffalo, Rick Ripley of Wolf Creek, Bruce Tutvedt of Kalispell and Chas Vincent of Libby.


Republican senators opposed were Essmann, Ed Walker and Roger Webb, all of Billings, Art Wittich and Scott Sales of Bozeman, Debby Barrett of Dillon, Scott Boulanger of Darby, John Brenden of Scobey, Dee Brown of Hungry Horse, Verdell Jackson and Jon Sonju of Kalispell, Eric Moore of Miles City, Priest, Matt Rosendale of Glendive, Janna Taylor of Dayton and Fred Thomas of Stevensville.


Changes could derail school bill

Kristen Cates Tribune Staff Writer – Great Falls Tribune – February 22, 2013

Proposed last-minute amendments to an education funding bill by state Sen. Llew Jones, R-Conrad, before it hits the Senate floor today or Saturday could mean the death of a bill that has received broad bipartisan support early in Montana’s legislative session.


The amendments, which are still being drafted and could possibly be proposed when Senate Bill 175 is debated on the Senate floor, include such changes as providing for charter schools and delaying implementation of SB 175 another year.


“(These amendments) are meant to trim the bill, confuse the bill … and kill the bill,” said Eric Feaver, president of the Montana Education Association-Montana Federation of Teachers. “The deal has to be what we have here. There’s a really fine balance of competing interests.”


Jones’ bill calls for, among other things, increasing the budget for K-12 education in Montana

by more than $100 million in the next biennium, but doing so by increasing the amount of oil and gas revenue that gets distributed to schools while reducing the amount of property taxes needed to fund the base budgets of schools in the neighborhood of $24 million each year.


Of the 10 drafted amendments to the bill, four of them were requested by Sen. Jason Priest, R-Red Lodge, as well as one by Senate President Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, and one by Edward Walker, R-Billings, each of whom have been at the center of controversy surrounding the more conservative wing of the Republican party.


“Why would you consider a charter school amendment to a bill that has nothing to do with charter schools?” Jones said in a phone interview with the Tribune on Thursday.


One of the proposed amendments comes from Sen. Elsie Arntzen, R-Billings, who wants to see sixth-grade students receive the same level of funding per student as high school students. Other Republican senators such as Matthew Rosendale, Scott Boulanger and Eric Moore have also introduced draft amendments.


Their proposed amendments seek a “ceiling” on the amount the natural resource development payments for schools that don’t increase spending beyond the rate of inflation while another aims to remove the “floor” that was added to the bill, that would prevent property taxes from increasing rapidly should gas prices bottom out. It would also change how the committee to oversee improved student data is appointed.


Lance Melton, executive director of the Montana School Boards Association, said amendments such as Arntzen’s are good-intentioned, but it doesn’t seem worthwhile to introduce amendments at the last minute on the Senate floor when SB 175 still has to make its way through the House of Representatives.


Priest’s name is on the proposed amendment to include public charter schools as part of SB 175. A bill to create public charter schools, HB 315, failed in the House on Feb. 12. Priest requested a proposal to change the name of the natural resource development payment to the fossil fuel extraction payment, and Priest also requested an amendment that would require local school districts to vote on whether or not they will accept the natural resource development payment.


“Sen. Priest is out of line if he’s trying to insert HB 315 (into this bill),” Melton said. “It’s one of those attempts to hijack the bill.”


Priest clarified Thursday afternoon that while he might have requested four drafts for amendments to SB 175, he’ll only be carrying two of them. Sen. Dee Brown, R-Kalispell, will seek the amendment to make charter schools part of SB 175. Priest will be carrying the amendment to change the names of the payment as well as the one which would require a local school district vote to accept oil and gas revenue.


Priest defended each amendment, including the 39-page charter school amendment, which he requested but is not carrying, saying that charter schools have everything to do with improving student achievement.


“It fits within the title of the bill,” he said.


Jones said he sees some of these possible amendments as “poisonous” to the intent of the overall bill.


“They don’t necessarily put student achievement first,” Jones said.


Priest said changing the name of the payment to a fossil fuel extraction payment more clearly defines and show the public that fossil fuels are directly tied to K-12 education, not wind development. He said requiring school districts to vote on whether or not they will accept oil and gas revenue will show where they stand on the issue of oil and gas development as a whole.


In counties such as Gallatin and Missoula, Priest said moratoriums on natural resource development have been issued. He indicated the hypocrisy of opposing development but accepting money derived from oil and gas development in other parts of the state.


“Do they want to oppose oil and gas revenue and still accept the money?” Priest said. “You can have it both ways, that’s the problem.”


Melton, Feaver and Jones said they are hopeful enough Democrats and moderate Republicans will vote against the amendments, and SB 175 will make it through the Senate unscathed.


“We have a bill that makes sense,” Feaver said. “In a way, it may be too big to kill.”


But they are unsure of the bill’s future in the House.


“We are confident we have sufficient support in the Senate,” Melton said. “We have significant work on the House side.”



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