Committee kills state aid bill sponsored by Nesselhuf

Committee kills state aid bill sponsored by Nesselhuf
The state should not increase general funding for school districts based on the recommendations of an adequacy study, a State Senate committee decided Feb.2

The Senate Education Committee killed a bill that would raise state aid by $820 per student, approximately $100 million. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Ben Nesselhuf, D-Vermillion, said the increase would be spread out over 5 years and then would become an annual allocation.

Under SB 120, the South Dakota Bureau of Finance and Management would put a three percent inflation restriction on the state's budget for five years. This would allow more money for education without raising taxes and eliminate op-outs, according to the bill's proponents.

"We think it is a good way to fund education without raising taxes," said Jim Hutmacher, S.D. Coalition of Schools.

Although Nesselhuf did amend the bill to exempt medical services from that restriction, many entities would suffer, said Tamara Darnall, Bureau of Finance and Management.

Sen. David Knudson, R-Sioux Falls, said the state can't afford to put restrictions on other entities without knowing the exact benefits of a funding increase.

"To put the straight jacket on state government, even with the amendment, doesn't make sense," he said.

But education has already suffered from that restriction, Nesselhuf said.

"It is the same diet that education has been on for 10 years," he said.

South Dakota Department of Education Secretary Rick Melmer said the adequacy study is only one recommendation. He suggested the Legislature wait to hear the department's state aid research in 2007 before making any funding decisions.

"I don't think it would be wise of this Legislature to invest $100 million into a formula that might not be right for us," he said.

Donna DeKraai, South Dakota Education Alliance, said the bill should be debated in the full Senate because current education funding is a major problem across the state.

"This isn't a simple small school, middle school or large school issue. It's an issue we're all concerned about," she said.

School districts need more money to appropriately educate children, said Shayne McIntosh, superintendent in Parkston.

"South Dakota government is supposed to take care of those who can't take care of themselves," he said. "Those children can't produce their own education and they need your help."

Brian Heupel, superintendent in De Smet, said if the bill was written into law, he would use the money to raise teacher salaries, create a public preschool, hire another teacher in order to have kindergarten every day and hire more teacher aides.

The bill was referred, 5-2, to the 36th Legislative Day. That kills the bill in the current 35-day session.

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