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Panel rejects school aid plan

PIERRE — South Dakota school districts suffered a setback Thursday in their efforts to persuade state lawmakers for extra money to help them recover from budget cuts imposed three years ago.

The House Appropriations Committee voted 5-4 to kill the funding proposal after a state budget offi cial said it could be difficult to fi nd money to pay for the extra school aid.

But representatives of school boards, administrators and teachers said they know a final decision on school aid won’t be made until the Legislature passes a state budget near the end of the session in March.

House Appropriations Chairman Fred Romkema, R-Spearfish, said after the meeting that discussions will continue and aid proposals may be offered when the budget is put together.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s proposed budget would boost aid to schools by 3 percent next year, nearly double the infl ationary increase required by law. But groups representing school districts are asking the Legislature for 3.8 percent, which would put spending per student where it was before budget cuts made in 2011.

The 3.8 percent boost, proposed by a legislative study panel that met last summer, would be $5.3 million more than the governor has recommended.

Jim Terwilliger of the governor’s budget offi ce said Daugaard's proposed budget would spend all available estimated revenue for the year beginning July 1, so boosting school aid would require cuts to other programs or the collection of additional revenue.

Rep. Lance Carson, R-Mitchell, said recent projections of state tax collection are “not as strong as we thought they would be.”

But Rep. Jacqueline Sly, R-Rapid City, who chaired the summer study that recommended the extra state aid, said school districts had to cut programs and increase class sizes after the cuts. A lack of money also has hurt efforts to boost teachers’ salaries, she said.

Wade Pogany of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota said spending in most state programs has grown beyond what was spent before the 2011 budget cuts.

Schools should get the same treatment, he said.

He said many districts are increasing local property taxes to make ends meet.

“We need your help,” Pogany told the committee.