An interesting conflict coming in 2009
PIERRE -- As a child, I never wondered who paid for school. School was just always there. One of my first assignments as a Capitol reporter involved a committee working on the last, really difficult, pieces of the 1968 school reorganization. A fi...
PIERRE -- As a child, I never wondered who paid for school. School was just always there.
One of my first assignments as a Capitol reporter involved a committee working on the last, really difficult, pieces of the 1968 school reorganization. A fistfight nearly erupted over the assessed value of a piece of land wedged between two consolidated districts.
Red Lyon -- from Meadow, I think -- tried to explain the school-aid formula to me that day. I struggled, and he finally said it didn't matter. Only two people in all of South Dakota understood the formula, he said, and they didn't agree on how it worked.
The current formula pays on a per-student amount that includes local property taxes and state general funds. It goes up by no more than 3 percent a year. In a time of declining enrollments, it has worked pretty well for government. If you boost the per-student amount but districts have fewer students, the burden on the state is lighter than if districts had more kids and a higher per-student factor each year.
Out in the districts, there are complaints.
A school losing enrollment can't cut programs or teachers every time it loses a kid or two. Lose enough, and they can, but it just isn't as neat as you might think.
A growing district has it made -- on paper. More students, more aid. Payments lag, though, so the growing school educates new kids for a while before the money arrives.
A university professor once told me that enrollment rises or drops in a straight line, but school expenses rise or fall like stair steps.
A couple of years ago, legislators decided the growing school districts needed help. They accelerated delivery of part of the growth money. At the same time, they decided school districts that were losing students should catch a break. They created an averaging feature aimed to cushion the loss of students and per-student money.
Gov. Mike Rounds is recommending a 3 percent per-student increase in his new budget. He'd pay for that in part by eliminating the growth and decline features. Some legislators suggest those special factors are a greater priority than a general state-aid increase this year.
The conflict should make for one of the more interesting discussions of the 2009 session.