Havre Daily News
Havre Public Schools Superintendent Kirk Miller is hopeful that state lawmakers can beat the clock, propose a new school funding formula and win consensus for it by the end of the year.
Miller was happy with some new proposals made to a nine-member group of lawmakers Tuesday, while critical of one choice.
Miller, who is also chair of the State Board of Education, is a nonvoting member of the Quality Schools Interim Committee. The committee is charged with proposing a new school funding formula which could be taken up at a special session of the Legislature this year.
The goal is to propose a formula by the end of 2005 in time to notify school districts, which begin working on the next academic year budget on Jan. 1. Last year, the Montana Supreme Court declared the state's school funding formula unconstitutional.
The highlight Tuesday was the possibility of a solution to the districts' difficulty in finding affordable health insurance plans for employees, Miller said.
The governor's budget director, David Ewer, asked the committee to look at the possibility of adding Montana's public school teachers to a state health plan for public employees.
”People almost stood and cheered,“ Miller said.
The state has been wary of allowing teachers to join the plan, which serves state and state higher education employees, because teachers tend to be an older, higher-risk group for health insurance, Miller said.
Ewer presented the plan Tuesday, telling the committee Gov. Brian Schweitzer would back the plan if all schools participated, with no ability to option out, The Associated Press reported.
Senate President Jon Tester, D-Big Sandy and a member of the committee, said today he is ”excited“ about the proposal.
The committee has asked the Montana Legislative Services Division to research the impact of joining the state plan on school districts across the state. Tester said he wants to find out if there are districts that would be negatively impacted by joining the state plan and the extent of the problem.
”I thought it was a heck of a good plan. I thought it was solid,“ he said.
Also Tuesday, the committee made additions to its blueprint for a new funding formula.
Generally, the plan is called ”ABCS,“ Miller said. Districts would be funded for ”A,“ what is required, per school, to satisfy accreditation requirements; for ”B,“ building and operation costs; for ”C,“ classroom costs; and for ”S,“ per-student costs.
The committee chose a formula Tuesday to use in calculating classroom costs that Miller said he opposed. That model is based on the maximum number of students per classroom.
”That's fundamentally flawed because we have AP Calculus and we have welding,“ Miller said. Both are examples of classes that would not be filled to capacity either because of safety concerns or lack of demand.
Miller said he preferred a model developed by consultants based on the opinion of educators.
”I don't think the calculated model is bad at all,“ Tester said.
The committee's work is still ”fluid,“ Tester said, and subject to change.