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Published in Print: June 11, 2003, as Capitol Recap

Capitol Recap

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The following offers education-related highlights of the recent legislative sessions. The enrollment figures are based on estimated fall 2002 data reported by state officials for prekindergarten through 12th grade in public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for precollegiate education spending include money for state education administration, but not federal, flow-through dollars, unless otherwise noted.


Two-Year Budget
Lowers School Aid

Gov. Judy Hartz

21 Democrats
29 Republicans
47 Democrats
53 Republicans

Gov. Judy Martz has signed a two-year budget for Montana that provides less funding for K-12 schools than is included in the current biennial budget.

The legislature built into the $1.1 billion state budget, which covers fiscal years 2004 and 2005, an increase in school districts' operating expenses, and in the amount it receives from the state per pupil. From this fiscal year to the next, which begins July 1, the basic entitlement for each district and the per-pupil aid will increase by 1.1 percent.

However, "because of declining enrollments, the bottom line goes down," said Kathy Fabiano, the assistant superintendent for operations for the Montana Office of Public Instruction.

Montana's K-12 budget for fiscal 2003 is $569 million, while for fiscal 2004, it will be $555 million, or a drop of 2.5 percent. In fiscal 2005, the amount will increase to $559 million, but will still be less that the current budget.

For special education, districts will receive $1.5 million in additional aid in 2005 over the current amount. In 2004, though, districts will get the same amount for special education as in the current year.

The legislature defeated several bills that had been supported by Gov. Martz. Lawmakers decided, for instance, not to pass a bill that would have enabled the state to help repay up to $12,000 worth of student loans for new teachers who teach in Montana.

They also didn't approve legislation that would have created a statewide insurance pool for teachers to help lower health-coverage costs for school districts.

But the legislature did provide $10,000 in its two-year budget for the governor to establish a "school renewal commission" to examine public funding for schools. And the legislature authorized the governor to raise additional private money to help run the commission.

—Mary Ann Zehr


Education Overhaul Leaves
Many Questions to Resolve

Gov. Mike O. Leavitt

7 Democrats
22 Republicans
19 Democrats
56 Republicans

Utah lawmakers passed an "omnibus" education bill this year meant to overhaul public schooling in the state. But the measure came without significant funding increases, and it leaves many important details to be fleshed out later.

The central provision of Senate Bill 154 calls for the development of a "competency-based" education system that will require Utah students to advance in grade level based on subject competency and not "seat time." The legislature appropriated $1.8 million for the state office of education to devise such a system, but lawmakers and others acknowledged that more money would have to be appropriated next year before any changes could be implemented.

Some observers also pointed out that the state office was working on competency-based education and new assessments well before the new mandate.

"It was called the omnibus bill, but we chose the phrase 'ominous bill,'" said Mark Mickelsen, the communications director of the Utah Education Association. "It tried to incorporate everything that had not been approved in past years."

At one point during the session, the bill included a measure to provide tax credits for private school tuition. It was the third year that a tuition tax credit was introduced in the legislature. This year's bill passed as a separate measure in the Senate, but it was added to SB 154 in the House.

Gov. Michael O. Leavitt, a Republican who opposes tuition tax credits, joined others in lobbying House members to remove the tax credits from the omnibus bill. They did, and the tax-credit bill died in the House.

Besides the modest amount of money for designing the new education requirements, lawmakers provided a 1 percent increase in the state's per-pupil funding formula. Overall, the fiscal 2004 budget for K-12 education is $1.68 billion, which is a 0.8 percent increase from the current budget.

This coming fall, Gov. Leavitt will convene a meeting to examine the competency-based system and to figure out how much money it might cost to implement.

—Mark Walsh

Vol. 22, Issue 40, Page 16

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