Montana Considers Draconian Cuts

Last Updated: July 23, 2010

This article appeared in the July 2010 Rural Policy Matters.

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As the state’s budget crisis worsens, many in Wisconsin see the budget-cutting options as violating a court ruling on school finance.

The Montana Legislative Services Fiscal Division (LFD) has recommended that the state’s share of education funding be reduced to 30% and that local property taxes be raised by two-thirds. Other proposed cuts included the consolidation of very small districts, cutting funding for dropout prevention, and reducing full-day kindergarten to half-day.

Montana School Board Association delegates reviewed and rejected these proposals and are hopeful that legislators on the Finance Committee will work with them to find other ways of dealing with the shortfalls. Many Montana school officials were shocked by the severity of the proposals and see the potential cuts as contradictory to the last ruling in the Columbia Falls v. State.

The Columbia Falls finance lawsuit decision in 2004 resulted in $31 million in additional funding, but much of that was in the form of one-time earmarks that were not maintained as the economy declined. Plaintiff districts returned to court in 2008 to ask for a new ruling that the state was not complying with the original order to fund a "basic system of free, quality" schools. The judge noted problems in teacher salary levels, teacher recruitment in rural districts, and other issues, but refused to grant additional relief. His decision did note, however, that state share of education funding should be increasing. Overall, that share has dropped significantly in recent years.

Read more:

Read coverage of the Montana School Board delegates’ response to the LFD report here:

Read an editorial about the proposed budget cutting measures here:

Background on the Columbia Falls suit, and the plaintiffs’ attorneys:

Read more from the July 2010 Rural Policy Matters.