School funds get boost

School funds get boost
State Sen. Ben Nesselhuf (D-Vermillion) admitted to constituents at a Saturday morning Cracker Barrel legislative meeting that he was feeling a bit giddy.

The Senate had just passed SB 157 a few days earlier.

"It is by far the most far-reaching education bill that has ever passed the Senate in my seven years up there," Nesselhuf said.

If it meets final approval in this year's legislative process, the bill would pump at least $10 million more into school aid and target the money for teacher salaries.

The foundation of the bill the Senate approved suggests the first dramatic change in the index factor in the school-aid formula since that plan was written a decade ago.

Nesselhuf's comments at the beginning of the citizens' meeting, held at the William J. Radigan Fire Station in Vermillion, set the stage for most of the morning's discussion.

In the audience were members of the Vermillion PTA, members of the local school administration and school board, and parents and grandparents.

All were interested in the progress of education funding proposals in the Capitol this legislative session.

"For years, we have fought this battle that schools get 3 percent or the rate of inflation, whatever is lower," Nesselhuf said, referring to annual increases in state aid to school districts. "We've changed that number, and if this bill passes, the increase will be 4.3 percent or the rate of state revenue growth, whichever is higher. That's a difference of about $7 million a year, and that goes right into the baseline, so that's very exciting. I just think this is one of the best things we've done in a long time."

Rep. Jamie Boomgarden (R-Chancellor) was a bit more cautious about the legislation's chances.

"I don't think there's a lot of support in the House on the Republican side right now for the 4.3 percent (funding increase minimum) level," he said. "A lot of that is because they don't know where they are in the budget numbers yet. There are some concerns about where that money is coming from."

Rep. Eldon Nygaard (D-Vermillion) believes the South Dakota Senate is playing a pivotal role in trying to enact education funding reform in the state.

�The Senate has really taken the lead this session, I think, in the education bill,� Nygaard said. �Certainly we�re (members of the House) are going to have to respond to it, and it�s going to boil down to when the bill comes to the House, what we�re going to do it.

�The real issue is, do we have enough votes to influence the spending issue on education? I think we do,� Nygaard said, �especially since there are a lot of new Republican legislators in addition to several excellent new Democratic legislators. I sense a lot more collegial attitude and response to the real issues.�

Nesselhuf said the extra revenue for this new education funding will come from the new tobacco tax approved by citizens last November, and from the education enhancement trust fund.

�I think it�s time we begin accessing some of those resources,� he said.

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