Montana officials to spend year reviewing state's school funding formula

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HELENA, Montana — State lawmakers and educators are reviewing the state funding formula for education a decade after a lawsuit forced Montana to create the system.

The School Funding Interim Commission set priorities Wednesday during the group's first meeting in Helena, according to Lee Newspapers of Montana (

The commission plans to conduct research and make recommendations to legislators in 2017. Members say they will test the funding formula's efficacy in small, isolated communities.

The group will also look at aspects of a 2005 legal settlement that advocates say were never met, including recruiting and keeping teachers, creating a school facilities funding system and giving more support to special education programs.

Chairman Sen. Tom Facey, D-Missoula, says creating a system funding facilities upgrades and construction may pose the greatest challenge for the commission.

"We've got the reality of the committee and the reality of finances, but hopefully we can get something with a wide consensus that would have a good chance of passing (in 2017)," Facey said.

Legislators began funding facilities grants with collections from timber sales and state land rental fees for dams. Direct appropriations had funded the grants previously.

Office of Public Instruction Chief of Staff Madalyn Quinlan says based on conversations with the governor's office, legislators are contributing millions less to schools than intended this year.

"...the $8.5 million legislators think they are making available to schools this year is actually closer to $5 million," she said. "You might look at whether these isolated revenue sources are an appropriate mechanism for funding something as important as school facilities."

The commission is planning to meet again in January and add topics to their study.

Information from: Independent Record,

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