SD lawmakers ready for new debate on school moneyPIERRE (AP) — When Gov. Dennis Daugaard recommended that state aid to school districts be increased by 3 percent next year, he set the stage for another round in the South Dakota Legislature’s ongoing debate on whether the schools should get extra money beyond what is needed to offset inflation.
By: Chet Brokaw, The Associated Press
PIERRE (AP) — When Gov. Dennis Daugaard recommended that state aid to school districts be increased by 3 percent next year, he set the stage for another round in the South Dakota Legislature’s ongoing debate on whether the schools should get extra money beyond what is needed to offset inflation.
House Republican Leader David Lust of Rapid City said most lawmakers want to give schools more money, but many are leery of spending more until they know how efforts to cut federal spending will affect the state budget.
“I think the desire is there. Whether it’s fiscally prudent is the question,” said Lust, who is among the state’s 105 lawmakers to descend on Pierre as the year’s legislative session begins Tuesday.
House Democratic Leader Bernie Hunhoff of Yankton said he believes the Legislature should find more money to help school districts recover from deep cuts in state aid made in 2011.
“We need to do better,” Hunhoff said.
Daugaard in early December proposed a state budget that would give school districts a 3 percent increase in the budget year beginning July 1, following a state law that requires state aid to schools to increase each year by the rate of inflation up to a maximum of 3 percent.
The Republican governor also recommended roughly 3 percent increases in state spending on universities, technical institutes and reimbursement rates for hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities that provide medical services to the poor in the Medicaid program.
But Daugaard also told lawmakers that his proposed budget would leave $26.5 million in anticipated revenue uncommitted over the next two years, meaning he and the Legislature can decide whether to spend it and, if so, how. Some of that could be used to give schools and other programs extra money on a one-time basis, such as was done in the current year’s budget. Those one-time bonuses are not built into the ongoing base budgets.
Wade Pogany, executive director of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota, said he has already talked to some lawmakers about using some of the uncommitted money to boost state aidto school districts. The governor’s proposed 3 percent boost in state aid falls far short of restoring the deep funding cuts made two years ago to balance the state budget, he said.
“We can make the case the schools are still in crisis, so we’re hoping they can do something above 3 percent,” Pogany said.
Schools have delayed spending on many programs because they haven’t recovered from the 2011 spending cuts, he said, when state aid to school districts was cut by about 6 percent. That led to staff and program reductions.
“There are still some holes in the hull of the ship we need to patch up,” Pogany said.
But the debate on school funding has been complicated by voters’ rejection in November of a proposed sales tax increase that would have raised an extra $180 million, which would have been split between schools and Medicaid providers. Daugaard said he believed that vote, plus voters’ rejection of his school reform measure, indicated South Dakotans want to keep education as it is.
In his budget address, Daugaard also warned lawmakers that President Barack Obama and Congress will eventually have to cut federal spending, which might mean the state has to spend more to offset lost federal money in some programs.
Lust said uncertainty over federal spending will complicate the Legislature’s efforts to pass a state budget.
“It will be an interesting debate because a lot of what’s going on in D.C. has really put a cloud on what we do in this state and legislators’ willingness to be looser with the purse strings,” Lust said.
Hunhoff said the governor’s proposed 3 percent boost in state aid to schools is insufficient because it is calculated on the ongoing base and doesn’t take into account the extra one-time money schools received this year.