Court decision on schools raises the stakes

As we return to legislative session this week, the main topic of discussion is the release of the Supreme Court decision on schools.

The decision does not put specific numbers on how much the Legislature needs to spend on public K-12 education, but rather spells out that more needs to be spent to improve the education and test scores, especially of the lowest achieving students.

Of course, that can present significant challenges as students with more family and parental involvement generally tend to do better than those with little family and parental involvement. That was not specifically stated in the ruling, but it simply stands to reason that parental involvement is beneficial for students.

Those are typically issues that especially affect the lower achieving students and are not something the Court or the Legislature can answer easily, other than requiring the Legislature to address it, to the best of our ability, through a funding formula.

It may be good to note that the Supreme Court did not put a funding number on its decision. The eventual cost will be determined by the formula itself, so it is impossible to calculate until a new formula is in place.

The House K-12 Budget and Senate Education committees have kicked up their game a little since the court ruling. Those committees are charged with writing a new school funding formula by June 30.

The K-12 Budget committee has been hearing various proposals for funding plans, which range from reinstating the 1992 formula to simply providing a block grant to the State Board of Education and telling them to figure it out. Hearings on the plans are about finished, so expect the committee to begin assembling a plan based on the information they have received.

Regarding other issues, the Appropriations Committee is continuing to work on putting together the 2018-19 budget. House plans are to get the mega budget out for floor action within two weeks, before first adjournment March 30.

At this point, since the governor vetoed the tax proposal, there is no additional funding source identified, so cuts may be made unless something changes. The question of whether to work the budget or set the revenue stream first is always difficult. What we do know is the gap between revenues and expenditures is large and must be addressed in some way. The Constitution still requires a balanced budget when the Legislature adjourns.

The Tax Committee is hearing and working some bills that are of little consequence to the budget. It is interesting to note that earlier this week the Senate worked the governor’s tax plan on the floor and rejected it by a large margin. The governor’s plan has increases in tobacco, alcohol and business registration taxes and fees. Just talking to other Legislators made it clear that plan was very unpopular.

Most other committees began meeting later this week and can work through issues quicker since many bills from the Senate are familiar. It is a common practice to introduce identical bills in both the House and Senate to speed the process.

The mood is a little more somber as the reality of how much work remains sinks in. So far, the rescission bill and funding measure the House passed is stalled in the Senate, and the Senate is trying to work out a plan to send our way so negotiations can begin to get that to the governor.

It’s actually fairly normal for things to get kind of tangled this time of session. I just hope it doesn’t go on too long.

Rep. Don Schroeder represents District 74, which includes much of the southern half of Marion County.

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