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An increase in money coming from the North Dakota Common Schools Trust Fund should help preserve state school aid payments.

The Common Schools Trust Fund, which comes from payments for energy exploration on state lands, income from leasing land for cattle grazing, money from a national tobacco lawsuit settlement and investment earnings, will provide $366.8 million toward education funding for the 2019-21 biennium. This represents an increase of $78.5 million, or 27.2 percent, from the 2017-19 biennium.

"The growth of the Common Schools Trust Funds has helped North Dakota maintain its support for our public schools during a time when our enrollments are growing," State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler said in a news release.

The increase will help the state Legislature continue the current level of state aid to schools. The state's general fund provides most of the financial aid to K-12 schools, which has been adversely affected in recent years by slowing sales and income tax revenue growth.

A formula is used to calculate payments to schools on a per student basis. For the past three years, the school aid payment has remained frozen at $9,646 per pupil.

Disbursements from the Common Schools Trust Fund have been increasing since at least 1997, but have gone up substantially in recent years, according to Legislative Council reports. There was a more than $80 million increase from the 2015-17 biennium to the 2017-19 biennium.

The number of public school students is also expected to increase by nearly 5 percent within the next three years, from an estimated 110,842 students to 116,347 in 2021.

(Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or Blair.Emerson@bismarcktribune.com)

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Education and Health Reporter