As I noted this morning, House Appropriations needed this morning to move Senate Bill 53, the annual Cutler-Gabriel adjustment to property tax levies and the per-student allocation for K-12 education. House Appropriations did indeed move SB 53 along, but with one crucial amendment: the lower levy limits and high per-student funding don’t take effect until July 1, 2017.
Now if you only read the bill and the amendment, you might think, “Hokey smokes! They just froze education funding for FY2016!” Were the new state revenue projections that bad?
Hold your fire. Legislators did not just declare that schools can’t afford to raise teacher pay this year. House Appropriations chair Rep. Justin Cronin (R-23/Gettysburg) explained in committee that we are still waiting for the final revenue numbers. The amendment was thus a technical device to move the SB 53 along and, if it passes the House, require a conference committee to reconcile the funding with the final estimate of state revenue available for the coming year. This purely procedural move passed without dissent, indicating that the two Democrats on the committee, Reps. Shawn Bordeaux (D-26A/Mission) and Ray Ring (D-17/Vermillion) don’t think there’s any chance the bill would actually pass in this form.
To be clear, today’s Bureau of Finance and Management report shows revenues $9.4 million to $11.4 million under the amount Governor Daugaard hoped for in December, but still $22.2 million—1.57%—higher than FY2015. That 1.57% increase should cover the straight 1.5% increase in the K-12 per-student allocation Governor Daugaard proposed in December. The remaining 0.5% in the original budget proposal can still come from Daugaard’s crafty ledger-demain of shifting technology, testing, and sparsity factor funding from 100% state responsibility to what looks like a 53%–47% Cutler-Gabriel state–local split.
Given today’s numbers, the 2% increase in K-12 per-student funding—and the 2% increase in teacher pay that should concomit—should still be achievable in the coming fiscal year. But let’s watch SB 53 and the conference committee to make sure that happens.