A local legislator said what will come out of the fight over funding for K-12 education in the state is anyone’s guess, at this point.
“I’m going to be bluntly honest with you, like I have been before, ” Rep. Kris Hansen said from Helena during a legislative video conference in Havre Wednesday. “What is going on right now, in levels above my pay grade right now, is that (legislative) leadership and the governor are fighting out what the end product is going to look like.”
Havre Public Schools Clerk Zella Witter asked Hansen about several bills dealing with K-12 funding, including some she said caught the district by surprise.
Hansen said that is the result of the negotiations going on between the House, the Senate and the governor.
“In order to make that happen, truthfully there are some bills that were fooled around with, ” she said.
Hansen reiterated a comment she made last week, that she wants to meet after the session with representatives of Montana State University-Northern, the state board of regents and K-12 education to find a better way to fund the systems.
Hansen is unhappy with the process, including that K-12 is seeing a funding increase with a decrease in enrollment, while higher education is seeing a cut with an increase in enrollment, Hansen said.
“I wasn’t sure how all the pieces would fit together in the end until now that I’m seeing it, ” she said. “I’m very discouraged with the way that we’ve prioritized the education funding this time. At this late date there’s not much that can be done about it, except now I know what not to do next time, if you vote for me next time. ”
The House was voting Wednesday on two bills into which the Senate had inserted education funding, and already had sent one to conference committee and would be sending the other to committee in the afternoon, Hansen said during the noon video conference.
“That’s the Senate’s reaction to the bill that’s actually in the House, ” she said. “They were disappointed, or mad, or something, about what they thought the House was going to do and so they stuffed things for education into two (House) bills that didn’t have anything to do with education. …
“So we will have three bills in conference committee that have had education funding stuffed into them, ” she said.
Hansen said she hopes the final product will be close to the bill drafted in the House, because it does the most to protect schools in the east that rely on oil and gas funding.
“I know everybody, all the schools, are not a hundred percent happy with it, because it only represents about that 1 percent increase (to previous funding) but we, in the House at least, we thought that was the best way to compromise without doing too much damage to oil and gas counties and schools.
“But whether the governor will agree with that or not is anybody’s guess, ” she added. “I don’t even know if the Senate will agree with that. ”