By Rep. Paul Anderson
Expectations are high that a significant increase in education funding will be passed during this legislative session. The per-pupil funding formula is the most common way to raise money for education, and it most likely will happen. But, there are other bills floating around and, if any or all of them also pass, it could account for a significant portion of the state budget.
I met with area school officials last week, and there was discussion concerning all the mandates being proposed this year that would affect pre-K to 12 education. Each of them represents a good idea and would be nice to have, but each contains a cost, some a significant cost. And taken together, they represent a large operating increase for our school districts. For example, there is a bill mandating minimum health insurance contributions, another that sets a $25 per hour minimum wage for all non-licensed school personnel, and one that increases prep time for teachers.
Those are in addition to legislation that will probably pass this session mandating paid family leave. This would impact all employers in the state, even those with as few as one employee. Our schools would also be affected by this proposed law, which would be funded by contributions from employers and employees. For school districts, that means an across-the-board increase of up to .35 percent of their payroll. And that's not counting the additional expense of hiring long-term substitute teachers and other workers for up to 24 weeks.
We have already spent several hundred million dollars on school lunches for all, and there are also discussions of fully funding special education, in addition to revisions to teacher pensions. And we haven't even gotten to the main funding tool, which is the per-pupil formula. Numbers being discussed include five percent increases in each of the two years of the coming biennium. Those are the highest numbers I've seen and, if enacted, would represent the largest increase to the formula in recent memory.
Our schools, like everything else, have been impacted by inflation. And, depending on just what bills pass this session, even that 5-and-5 percent increase in the formula may not be enough. Items will need to be prioritized. Reforming teacher pensions is one of them, and it should be on the list. Teachers play a huge role in the development of our children, and we need to encourage more students to enter the teaching profession.
Language establishing a "Grain Indemnity Fund" has been passed in the agriculture committees in both the House and Senate. Main difference between the two bills is the level of state funding to jump-start the fund on the way to its maximum of $15 million. The Senate version fully funds the program from the start with state money, while the House version puts $5 million into it.
The idea for such a fund is to protect farmers who sell grain to an elevator that goes bankrupt before issuing payment for the grain. This situation has occurred several times in recent years, with the elevator at Ashby being one such example. An assessment collected when grain is sold by farmers would be used to bring the fund up to $15 million if the state contribution is less than that. It would then blink off until the balance got down to $9 million. It also contains an opt-out feature, where a farmer could request a refund of the money contributed to the fund. The farmer could re-enter at a later date but would have to re-pay money back to the fund.
If both chambers pass the bill, a conference committee would work out the differences, with the major item being the size of the state contribution.