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ND legislator proposes hiking school funding

$820 million bill would be ‘big lift’

Jill Schramm/MDN Rep. Scott Louser speaks at a news conference in Minot Municipal Auditorium Tuesday about his proposed legislation impacting schools and political subdivisions.

State Rep. Scott Louser, R-Minot, who announced his candidacy for the Minot School Board Tuesday, is proposing legislation that would have the state pick up the cost of public schools and help pay for private education.

Louser held a news conference Tuesday regarding a proposed $820 million House bill that would have the state cover the 60 mills of property tax that schools now levy. It would not cover bonded indebtedness or any optional mills that school districts can levy. The cost would be about $675 million in the 2025-27 biennium.

Another piece of the bill would provide private schools 80% of the per pupil payment that public schools receive, estimated in 2026 to be $8,500 per private school student. Last session, the Legislature approved spending $1,500 per private school student, which was vetoed by the governor. Louser’s bill adds a provision that makes private schools eligible only if they meet state reporting and admission requirements. If all private schools participate, the cost to the state would be between $70 million and $75 million.

The bill also would set a spending cap that would allow no more than a 3% increase by political subdivisions, including cities, counties, park districts, fire districts and townships.

“I want a lot of public discussion about it, and if it’s the right thing to do for North Dakota, it will be the biggest bill that we address next session,” Louser said, explaining that finding a source of funding for it would fall to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.

Louser said he would introduce the bill only if a proposed constitutional measure to eliminate the property tax either fails to get on the ballot or is defeated by voters. The property tax measure would make much of his bill moot.

“I believe this is a better route,” he said of his proposal. “A little over 40 percent of your property tax bill is K-12 education. If the Legislature picks up those 60 mills and we cap the rest of the local political subs, my opinion is property taxes we can move as we need to with a 3 percent increase year over year.”

He noted language already exists in law for emergency situations in which political subdivisions may need more than 3% would allow. For instance, there are provisions to go to the voters to raise taxes, he said.

“The biggest hurdle is going to be a combination of the price tag and the desire of legislators to take the income tax to zero percent,” he said. “You’ve got legislators that want the reduction of property taxes, the reform. You’ve got other legislators who want to see the income tax go to zero percent.”

Louser said he has been visiting with legislative leadership and felt it necessary to get his bill before the public to generate conversation prior to the 2025 session.

“It’s important to have this out in the public and have some transparency and have some debate long before we get into the session,” he said. “Because this is big. Somewhere between $675 million and $825 million, depending on what the bill looks like, is a big lift.”

Louser said his decision to run for school board came about as the current board wrestles with a projected $6 million deficit next year. He said a give-and-take needs to happen between the board and the public on cost-cutting measures, such as school closures.

“This current school board is going to have to make those decisions before the next school board gets seated, but I think there’s some cost overruns,” Louser said. “If they go the direction of not closing those schools, they are going to have to look for cuts within their budget. I don’t think they should be deficit spending $6 million.”

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