By SARAH COOKE/Associated Press Writer
HELENA - An education group wants the Legislature to dole out millions of dollars in relief to keep struggling school districts going until a new school funding system is hammered out.
The Montana Quality Education Coalition plans to ask lawmakers to increase school spending by about 10 percent per pupil, executive director Jack Copps said Tuesday.
A $48 million statewide health insurance package for teachers and other district staff will also be requested, he said.
''What it really boils down to is a lot of school districts are experiencing really high health insurance rates, mostly because their districts are small,'' Copps said. ''This recommendation would form a statewide pool that would reduce the cost of premiums.''
Copps and his group announced the requests following Tuesday's state Supreme Court decision upholding a lower court ruling that declared Montana's school funding system unconstitutional.
The Legislature must now create a new system by October 2005.
In the meantime, Copps argued that school districts need more money to pay their bills and other expenses.
The state spent $3,716 per pupil in fiscal year 2004, state Office of Public Instruction spokesman Joe Lamson said. Increasing that figure 10 percent - or by $371.60 per pupil - would mean spending an additional $55.1 million on the state's estimated 148,356 public school students.
Copps said his group will discuss the proposals with lawmakers before the 2005 Legislature convenes in January.
''People need to come together and work together to do what's in best the interest of our children,'' he said. ''We don't think we can simply throw demands out and expect that our demands be satisfied but we'll come together and find out what's possible.''
On the Net:
Montana Quality Education Coalition: http://www.mqec.org