Capitol Letters – Week 10

Education was a focus in Bismarck this week. While some legislators are hitting the (bill) books on behalf of our kids, it seems others need to be taken to school. We aim to provide you with a current events lesson in this week’s edition of Capitol Letters (and just so you know we didn’t flunk spelling, we are aware letters are “capital” and assure you the title of this newsletter is a very deliberate, if not necessarily witty, play on words).

The Right Fights: Restoring cuts to schools in Native American communities
This session, we here at Capitol Letters have repeatedly stated the obvious: North Dakota is faced with great opportunity.  The one-time harvest of our natural resources puts North Dakota in a position to entirely avoid the difficult choices other states have had to make in recent years when it comes to the fundamental priority of educating our kids.

So in this time of plenty, the changes made to the K-12 funding formula by the House fail to make the grade. Under its House amendments, HB 1319 shortchanges schools serving Native American schoolchildren throughout the state, reducing funds to reservation school districts by over $6 million relative to the amount they would receive under the executive budget. That’s a $2.5 million real-dollar cut from last year’s funding level. It is not the kind of subtraction our kids should be forced to learn, especially when these districts are bracing for the impact of the federal budget sequester.

To help, Senators Joan Heckaman and Richard Marcellais, respectively representing the people of the Spirit Lake Nation and Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians in the Senate, are working in a bipartisan fashion to provide an equitable K-12 funding formula that works for all North Dakota kids from White Shield to West Fargo, Stanley to Standing Rock, and all parts in between.

Joan and Richard aren’t looking to put legislators’ names on the board over the flawed formula. They’re just looking to make things right. We stand with Senators Heckaman and Marcellais as they work to provide equal educational opportunities to every inquisitive young mind in our state. It’s the right fight for North Dakota.

Head-shaker of the week: Flip flopping on the future
As of Thursday, we were prepared to tout a bipartisan success with Senate passage of SCR 4026. Then came Friday, and now we’re shaking our heads.

This concurrent resolution, co-sponsored by one of the authors of Capitol Letters and group of pragmatic legislators from both parties, would create the “legacy scholarship fund.” Here’s how it would work if passed out of the Legislature and approved by voters: 1) $450 million from the state’s legacy fund would be set aside; 2) this principal, which could never be spent, would be prudently invested to generate a return; and 3) the return would fund merit-based scholarships for North Dakota’s best and brightest in perpetuity. Thus, a small fraction of our state’s one-time harvest of oil revenue would be permanently invested in our state’s most valuable natural resource: Highly-educated young people.

The approach is modeled after Wyoming’s Hathaway Scholarship Program, which has been providing access to higher education and economic opportunity in that state since the mid-2000s. It is working in practice there, and on Thursday the Senate seemed to think this was a pretty fine idea for North Dakota as well when it voted 25-21 to pass SCR 4026.

But not so fast. Today, Senator Tom Campbell (R – Grafton), moved that the Senate reconsider its passage of SCR 4026. Nearly all members of the majority who voted for the resolution Thursday flipped their votes Friday, resulting in the defeat of the resolution.

Sadly, that seems to be the way of things in the Legislature. Some of us want to focus on permanent investments in future generations. The majority? They seem, quite literally in the case of SCR 4026, hung up on what happened yesterday.

More next week

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we leave you with this Irish blessing:
May those that love us, love us.
For those that don’t love us,
May God turn their hearts.
And if he doesn’t turn their hearts,
May he turn their ankles,
So we’ll know them by their limping.

We hope you’re proud of the efforts of your Dem-NPL legislators here in Bismarck. And if not, we hope you’ll at least find a comfy ankle brace. Talk to you next week, keep the faith, and “like” us on Facebook.

Mac Schneider
Kenton Onstad

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