By DAVE KOLPACK
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) _ Senate and House negotiators on Thursday were polishing off amendments to a 105-page, nearly $2 billion bill on funding for North Dakota schools.
The last major issue being resolved centered on how much to increase per-pupil funding. The two sides tentatively agreed to 3 percent increases for both the first and second years.
“That was the last stumbling block,” said Bismarck Rep. Mike Nathe, chairman of the House Education Committee.
The per-pupil money is distributed according to a formula based on the number of students in a school district as well as weighted factors for such needs as special education and English as a second language classes. Schools are promised a set payment for every student.
North Dakota has about 107,000 public school students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The funding would amount to $9,365 per student next school year and $9,646 for the 2016-2017 school year.
Fargo Sen. Tim Flakoll said it will likely cost about $100 million to pay for additional students the next two years.
“That’s a significant hurdle and a significant increase. We certainly understand that,” said Flakoll, who is chairman of the conference committee on education. “But not every district is growing and, as a result, we have to make sure that both those districts that are growing as well as those that are experiencing softer enrollment numbers can all still perform.”
He said the 3 percent increases are in line with other state budgets and a fair compromise between the Senate and House proposals. The House version had 2 percent increases for each of the next two years, compared to the 3.6 percent increases offered by the Senate.
“I don’t think it’s too much of a difference when you consider it’s a $2 billion bill,” Flakoll said.
Some lawmakers were hoping that the session would wrap up this week, but Flakoll said it could take a few days to finish drafting, reviewing, adopting and passing the bill in both chambers.
“And that’s if everything goes perfect,” he said. “Things don’t always go perfect.”