Can I Get a Witness? They didn't have to look too far for one or two (or a couple of dozen) in the House and Senate Education Finance Divisions today to find a person willing to talk. The day began in the Senate Education Funding Division. After a short bill run-through, the attention turned to witnesses from various education interest groups providing their viewpoints on the bill. The Senate bill, as described yesterday, covers the waterfront in terms of initiatives. The centerpieces of the bill are the deferred maintenance program that will provide assistance to school districts throughout the state with on-going building repair needs, a $70 million increase in school readiness (more about that later), a 1% increase on the basic formula in each year, and $20 million in additional revenue to the alternative compensation (QComp) pool. If there is a criticism of the Senate bill is that it doesn't increase the general education formula at the level of inflation (and that is a valid criticism). But when your target is $350 million (a little more than half of the Governor's target of $694 million, you don't have a lot of leeway to put money on the formula if you are pursuing anything other than the formula. If the entire $350 million were put on the formula, it would amount to approximately 2%. In fairness to the Senate, they have matched the Governor's 1% on the formula (and, as stated above, the Governor proposed a much larger target that is largely devoted to universal school-based pre-kindergarten programs). The recurring theme in most of the testimony today was if the final budget target for education increases beyond the Senate's $350 million, that increment should be directed toward the per pupil formula, The other question that is hovering over the bill is the nature of the school readiness increase. Is this program more like the current school readiness program or the universal pre-kindergarten program proposed by the Governor? These and many other questions have yet to be answered.
The testimony in the House is a little tougher because there target is so low and what can you say about a low target? There are some interesting things in the House bill that will be helpful to SEE member districts. Non-metro districts will get a little revenue bump through a change in the equity formula and there's an equalization enhancement for districts with high levels of seasonal/recreational property. It is interesting to point out that the percentage of target devoted to the general education basic formula is higher for the House bill than it is for either the Governor's proposal and the Senate bill. Of course, that advantage becomes relatively meaningless given the fact that the House target is so low, but I think it does indicate that the House's top priority for funding is the basic formula.
Both divisions intend to amend their bills tomorrow and it will be interesting to see how many amendments are offered and the nature of these amendments. I will provide a report tomorrow.