By Ron VandenBoom
Large demonstrations in Helena demanding more funding for K-12 education might spur the Legislature into pumping a few more dollars into this biennium's school budget, but it does not solve the problem of how consistently and adequately to fund schools in the future.
Havre freshman Rep. John Musgrove, however, believes he may have found at least part of the answer by sponsoring HB-625 a measure that takes a positive step toward fixing the K-12 funding crisis for future legislative sessions. It is the only piece of legislation currently before the Legislature that will look at how K-12 is funded and what might be done to fix it in the future.
The measure creates an interim committee to study the adequacy and equity of funding for K-12 and to make suggestions on how it might be made more equitable.
The House Appropriations Committee will hear the bill Tuesday morning.
Musgrove's bill would create the K-12 Public School Funding Committee which would consist of two members each from the House and Senate and a representative from the Office of Public Instruction. The governor will appoint one member and a representative of the board of public education will also appoint a representative.
Three representatives from statewide education associations will complete the list of 10 members.
The bill charges the committee with examining "allocation of funding to adequately fund elementary, middle school, and high school programs."
It also will examine "economies of scale" in providing educational services in large and small districts.
Other goals will be to examine teacher shortages, adequate and equitable budget limitations, adequacy of school bonding limitations, and funding for pupil transportation.
If the bill were passed as written, the committee would have the authority to obtain statistics, estimates and any other relevant information from agencies, boards, or commissions.
The bill requires the committee to submit a written report to the Legislature on, or before, Sept. 15, 2002 which must include any recommendations and proposed bill drafts.
There is a $50,000 appropriation attached to the bill to cover travel and other expenses incurred by committee members.
Musgrove said HB-625 is something that grew out of resolutions agreed to by the Montana Office of Public Instruction (OPI) and the Montana School Board Association. He also credited OPI's Chief of Staff, Matalyn Quilan, with having a big hand in the design of the bill.
Musgrove described Quilan as a "school funding expert" and the person who understands the most about how schools are funded.
Musgrove said he is optimistic the bill will pass and said that he has received comments favoring the bill from both sides of the aisle.
"I think there is real bipartisan support for education this session," Musgrove said.
Sentiment at the moment also seems to favor passing Gov. Judy Martz's education proposal, HB-121, which allocates a zero percent increase in funding for the first year of the biennium and a three percent increase for 2002.
Musgrove said he believes the Martz bill will be passed with an amendment that will allow for the people to vote on an increase of up to five percent in school funding.
This will be accomplished by allowing school districts that have met the caps to increase their mills, he said.
Again, Musgrove said he believes there will be bipartisan support for the proposal.