The new state school funding formula in the works is “radically different, completely untested, potentially destructive” and may benefit smaller districts at the expense of larger districts like Missoula, the state’s largest group of educators says.
At the annual conference of the Montana Education Association/Montana Federation of Teachers (MEA-MFT) in Missoula Oct. 20, President Eric Feaver railed against the Legislature’s Quality Schools Interim Committee and pleaded with Gov. Brian Schweitzer to call a special legislative session to address the issue.
Monica Lindeen, chairwoman of the committee charged with fixing the state’s funding formula, says Feaver’s criticisms are premature, since many of the details have yet to be settled.
“I can tell you this committee’s goal is to ensure that no district is harmed,” she says. “That’s one of the reasons we haven’t completed our work yet. I would really ask for some patience and consideration. This committee has done in six months what has taken years in other states.”
Feaver says the committee’s haste is part of what scares him about the wholesale adoption of a brand-new formula. He specifically called for putting the brakes on the new formula, and making shorter-term fixes in the meantime, so the new formula is cogent and thorough when it is implemented.
One major concern cited by Feaver is the additional $4,000 per classroom the committee has endorsed.
“It doesn’t count all the people who actually provide instruction to kids—it only counts classroom units,” he says. This means large school districts like Missoula with costs and personnel needs beyond the sheer number of classrooms—for instance, librarians, counselors and nurses—could be left behind. Tying the $4,000 to the number of fulltime educators, not classrooms, would make more sense, he says, and MEA-MFT has fought for that in past sessions.
Lindeen responds by saying the formula has other components, which have yet to be worked out, that will address those needs. She says the committee will meet again Nov. 1, and hopes to complete the funding model within the next few weeks.