Commentary: Mandates complicate education bills

This commentary was part of Rep. Paul Anderson's weekly column. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.

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By Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck

Expectations are high that a significant increase in education funding will be passed during this legislative session. The per-pupil funding formula is the most common way to raise money for education, and it most likely will happen. But, there are other bills floating around and, if any or all of them also pass, it could account for a significant portion of the state budget.

I met with area school officials last week, and there was discussion concerning all the mandates being proposed this year that would affect pre-K to 12 education. Each of them represents a good idea and would be nice to have, but each contains a cost, some a significant cost. And taken together, they represent a large operating increase for our school districts. For example, there is a bill mandating minimum health insurance contributions, another that sets a $25 per hour minimum wage for all non-licensed school personnel, and one that increases prep time for teachers.

Those are in addition to legislation that will probably pass this session mandating paid family leave. This would impact all employers in the state, even those with as few as one employee. Our schools would also be affected by this proposed law, which would be funded by contributions from employers and employees. For school districts, that means an across-the-board increase of up to .35 percent of their payroll. And that's not counting the additional expense of hiring long-term substitute teachers and other workers for up to 24 weeks.

We have already spent several hundred million dollars on school lunches for all, and there are also discussions of fully funding special education, in addition to revisions to teacher pensions. And we haven't even gotten to the main funding tool, which is the per-pupil formula. Numbers being discussed include 5% increases in each of the two years of the coming biennium. Those are the highest numbers I've seen and, if enacted, would represent the largest increase to the formula in recent memory.


Our schools, like everything else, have been impacted by inflation. And, depending on just what bills pass this session, even that 5-and-5 percent increase in the formula may not be enough. Items will need to be prioritized. Reforming teacher pensions is one of them, and it should be on the list. Teachers play a huge role in the development of our children, and we need to encourage more students to enter the teaching profession.

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