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Governor proposes plan to help all growing schools, not just oil-impacted districts

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Governor proposes plan to help all growing schools, not just oil-impacted districts
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

BISMARCK -- Gov. Jack Dalrymple on Wednesday proposed a $225 million plan to help schools facing rapid student enrollment growth, a plan his challenger says was needed sooner.

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Dalrymple shared his proposal to enhance state support for these schools during the North Dakota Governor's Education Summit in Dickinson.

"The state's strong economy is creating new jobs, new career opportunities and it has played a major role in reversing the state's long-standing population decline," Dalrymple said in a statement. "With growth have come challenges for school districts, particularly those in the state's oil-producing counties. We have provided significant resources to assist these schools, but we can do more to ensure that our educators have the resources they need to provide the best education possible."

Dalrymple's proposal involves:

- Setting aside $200 million to provide low-interest loans to qualified school districts throughout the state -- not just in the oil counties -- for the construction of new schools or for improvements or expansions to existing school buildings.

Under the loan program, schools could receive up to $20 million for a project and interest rates as low as 1 percent. Loan applications would be received and approved by the superintendent of public instruction based on need and the relative wealth of the school district.

Loans would not be considered a debt for school districts in oil-producing counties, but rather a pre-payment of future oil tax allocations.

The money would come from the strategic investment and improvement fund, which receives revenue from state-owned minerals and from oil taxes. The Department of Trust Lands tentatively predicts there will be $500 million to $600 million in the fund by the end of the biennium.

- Setting aside $25 million in oil and gas impact grant funds during the 2013-15 biennium for rapidly growing schools impacted by oil development.

Dalrymple said this money could be used for teacher housing, transportation issues or "anything that they can show is an impact due to oil development."

These grants are funded with oil tax revenue. Dalrymple has said he again wants the state to set aside a total of $135 million for impact grants for the next biennium to help local governments in oil country.

During the past school year, the state provided more than $10 million in impact grants to address school needs in oil-producing counties.

- Forming an advisory group of western school superintendents, teachers, counselors and school board members to keep state officials informed of school enrollments and immediate challenges. Dalrymple also plans to soon appoint an adviser on rapidly growing schools who will assist superintendents and other school officials with planning and growth strategies.

State Superintendent Wayne Sanstead said he was "encouraged" by Dalrymple's proposal.

"I think the bottom line is that this clearly was a pledge to do more in the world of state support for the schools that are struggling to meet the challenges," Sanstead said. "It's state support that the western schools are looking for."

Sanstead said he knows there will be people who say the proposal is far too little or is far too much and doesn't include them.

"I'm still mindful there's a legislative-making process. I'm sure the debate will go forward," Sanstead said. "But at least this is a great beginning."

Senate Minority Leader Ryan Taylor of Towner said his gubernatorial campaign has consistently pushed the issue of education funding in oil impact areas and made education a centerpiece of his vision for North Dakota's future.

"There seems to be an increase of summits, news releases and plans that might take effect midway through 2013 now that we're three months from an election," Taylor said in a statement. "In a Taylor administration, needs would be addressed when they are plain to see, not months and years later."

Oil tax revenue is piling up at the state Capitol instead of going to work right away to handle the impacts of growth, Taylor said.

Taylor also unveiled a plan Wednesday to address child care needs in North Dakota. The plan comes one week after the Land Board approved a $625,000 pilot project to help address the child care shortage in five oil cities. Each received $125,000.

Taylor's plan would involve spending $30.6 million in 2013-15 for child care facility grants, which would cover up to 50 percent of the cost of facility building and equipment in areas of high need.

He also wants to spend up to $15 million for child care workforce development grants and provide additional tax credits and incentives to help communities keep child care available.

The money for the plan would come from the state's general fund, he said.

Taylor pointed to a study on the child care needs in Williston that shows it would take an investment of $28 million to meet 50 percent of the child care demand.

"Throwing $125,000 at a $28 million problem is a lot like putting a Band-Aid on a broken arm. It is simply inadequate," Taylor said in a statement. "Families in North Dakota deserve real leadership in Bismarck that will address the child care crisis in a productive and meaningful way, not reactive leadership that is content doing too little, too late. In a Taylor administration, you'll see real leadership come from the governor's office."

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