The House passed a new education funding formula for kindergarten through grade 12 by a handful of votes late Thursday afternoon.
A majority of the nearly 20 lawmakers who spoke during the debate, however, told colleagues to kill House Bill 1319. Opponents questioned the more than $700 million in property tax relief built into the bill.
HB1319 passed the House by a 49-42 vote. The bill, which also needs Senate approval, sets the combined state and local share of K-12 education funding to $8,810 per student for the 2013-14 school year and $9,092 the following year. It is an increase from $3,980 in 2012-13 and $3,910 in 2011-12.
Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck, said in years past, the state’s economy was in decline and school enrollment was falling, but that trend has reversed and in some districts, especially in the oil patch, enrollment is spiking. He said the needs have increased sharply.
“(HB)1319 will help them meet these needs,” Nathe said.
The bill sets the number of mills used to calculate a district’s state aid at 50 mills. The House had wanted it at 70 mills, which was a major sticking point during conference committee negotiations.
Under HB1319, school districts seeking additional funding can do so through a local vote. It also raises beginning teachers’ salaries from $22,500 to $27,500.
Several legislators weren’t happy with the property tax relief being built directly into the K-12 formula.
“There needs to be a significant amount of property tax relief built in,” said Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck.
Becker noted the 2009 property tax mill levy buydown of $310 million and the $341.8 million one that passed in 2011. He questioned the “tripling down” on property tax relief that hadn’t addressed taxpayer concerns in the last two sessions.
“I would say doing the right thing is more important than doing something,” Becker said.
Rep. Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield, said HB1319 essentially “mandates property tax increases to our citizens.”
Weisz called the property tax provisions in HB1319 a fatal flaw.
“This bill is designed for K-12 funding,” Nathe said.
Nathe said questions of policy in terms of property tax reform can be addressed in other legislation.
House Minority Leader Kenton Onstad, D-Parshall, said HB1319 has been in the works all session and the groundwork for it had been prepared long before the session. He added that the Legislature had 78 days before Thursday to bring the property tax issue up.
“At this point … we need to support HB1319,” Onstad said.
“We have the ability now to pay more of the cost of K-12 education in the state,” said Rep. David Monson, R-Osnabrock. “It just happens to provide property tax relief along with it.”
House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, said the House had tried to maintain its position of 70 mills but the Senate had refused to budge.
Carlson said despite it being Day 79 of the 80-day session the House shouldn’t have to back down and accept HB1319.
“This is all about money,” Carlson said.
He said if the House killed HB1319, it could bring back a Senate bill, SB2036, and pass that in its place. SB2036 contains approximately $403.7 million in mill levy reduction grants for the Department of Public Instruction. No action has been taken on SB2036 since it was passed by the House on April 18.