Regardless of how one feels about the increase in the shift to 60%/40% (I hate it), it's impossible to dismiss this bill as a total pox upon the state's education community. There are some good things in the bill. For those of us who have ridden the state budget roller coaster over the past decade, we remember the 2003 session when education was funded not at current law base levels, but well below them. In 2003, the basic formula remained flat and the special education growth factors were repealed, making the only increase school districts would receive dependent on whether or not their free-and-reduced price lunch numbers had grown or if they could add to their existing (or non-existent) operating levy authority. This bill does put $50 per pupil on the formula in each of the next two years and while a good chunk of that is going to go to helping pay interest costs on borrowing, it could have been worse (I'm going to be saying that a lot for the next few weeks and months).
The bill also retains the special education growth factors at the current law levels of 4.6% for the basic program and 2.0% for the excess cost formula. Special education costs continue to rise and, as all of you know from my years of preaching on the subject, moving money out of special education only increases the cross-subsidy from the general fund to pay for special education costs. The most responsible way to deal with special education funding is to have as much funding for special education programs come through the basic special education formula in an attempt to keep a lid on the cross-subsidy from the general fund and it's heartening to see the Legislature and Governor take that approach.
There is also a considerable amount of mandate relief in the bill without (at least at first glance) a mountain of new mandates replacing those that have been removed (which is far too often the case). The mandates being repealed or modified are:
- The January 15th negotiating deadline and aid penalty (repealed).
- The maintenance-of-effort provision in the safe schools levy for counselors, social workers, psychiatrists, and school nurses (repealed).
- A two-year suspension of the 2% staff development set-aside (temporary).
- An increase in the population necessary for a district to maintain a community education director from 2,000 to 6,000 (modified).
- Requires the Commissioner of Education to approve school district fund transfer requests provided said requests do not increase state aid entitlements or local property taxes for the next two fiscal years. Transfers from either the food service or community service funds are not permitted (temporary).
I'll be back with Part 2 in a bit.