A primer on state education funding

2011-04-23T20:00:00Z A primer on state education fundingBy MIKE DENNISON Missoulian State Bureau Ravalli Republic

HELENA - As the Legislature's regular session enters its home stretch this week, nearly $1.5 billion in public school funding is one of the flash points of the budget fight.

State money for schools affects not only school districts, but also local property taxpayers. Taxes on oil-and-gas production and other natural resources also figure in the mix.

Here's a quick primer on this complicated stew of taxes, funding and formulas, and how it might affect your district and your taxes:

Question: How do state funds finance public schools?

Answer: Nearly half of the money for public schools comes from the state treasury, which uses state income taxes, property taxes and other revenue to cover the cost. The state distributes "base aid" to school districts, on a per-school and per-student basis, in amounts set by the Legislature.

Q: Where does the rest of the money come from?

A: About 40 percent is from local property taxes; another 10 percent is federal money.

Q: Does state funding affect local property taxes?

A: Yes. If the state gives schools less money, school districts can ask local voters to approve an increase in property taxes to maintain the budget at the previous year's level. An increase in state funding also can give certain districts authority to levy additional taxes, within a range of allowed budget authority.

The current proposal would increase state funding by 1 percent this year and 2.4 percent next year.

Q: So are schools getting more state money?

A: Not exactly. The first year, because the 1 percent is figured on a base that is lower than current money, schools will get less money. In 2012, they will get a bit more.

Q: How much state money goes to schools under the current proposal?

A: About $1.47 billion over the next two years, or 40 percent of the state's general fund budget.

Q: How does oil-and-gas revenue go to schools?

A: About 52 percent of oil-and-gas production taxes flow to the state, and school districts where production occurs get a portion of the remainder. About 130 school districts get oil-and-gas revenue.

Q: What about other mineral and natural resource income for schools?

A: A portion of the metalliferous mines license tax goes to school districts where the mining occurs, as does a portion of the gross proceeds tax on coal production.

Recipients of coal money include schools in Colstrip, Forsyth, Decker, Hardin, Roundup and Spring Creek.

Receipts from federal timber sales also are used to offset local school property taxes in timber-producing counties, primarily in western Montana.

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