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Consultant praises new K-12 funding formula

BISMARCK - A national education consultant gives the North Dakota Legislature an A-plus for its work in providing adequate and equitable funding to K-12 public schools.

Allan Odden, a partner with Lawrence O. Picus and Associates, which designs school funding systems, told the Legislature's interim Education Funding Committee on Wednesday that the new funding formula adopted by the Legislature is going to have a significant impact.

"Whatever tweaks that need to be made or not, you all should feel great," he told the committee.

"You put so much money into the system, you pretty much enabled districts to employ loads of strategies to put into their schools."

Faced with a lawsuit in 2007, the state put together the North Dakota Education Improvement Commission, to create a framework and goals to provide equitable school payments.

Odden and Picus helped the commission provide the framework based off their evidence-based approach that estimates school finances while creating a support structure for students.

"The state had a suit, rather than waiting, the state said they would work it out," Odden said. "They have done fabulous work and on their own initiative."

Picus and Odden estimated in 2007 the state's share of education per student was

$7,394. Now, after adjusting for inflation, the base figure is $8,810 for 2013-14 and $9,092 for 2014-15 -- "well above the national average," he said in his presentation.

But, he said, now that the funding is largely in place, challenges still remain for the state to make sure it is effectively funding K-12 education.

State Sen. Tim Flakoll, R-Fargo, said the challenges that come with the new funding formula will be faced with a 360-degree review to ensure the formula and evidence-based approach are effective.

Flakoll, the chairman of the interim committee, said lawmakers will continue to discuss ways to develop and tweak the system.

"We think we have given them the resources so they can be successful," he said. "We want to make sure we get feedback from districts to make sure they are spending the money on what we want."

He said over time, as the state watches the new funding formula, "there will be other things we learn are working and we will need to adapt."

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.