Gov. Jack Dalrymple today shared his plans for the next biennium to enhance state support for schools facing rapid growth in student enrollments. Dalrymple shared his proposal with about 100 school administrators, teachers, school board members and other education officials who attended the North Dakota Governor's Education Summit in Dickinson.
"The state's strong economy is creating new jobs, new career opportunities and it has played a major role in reversing the state's long-standing population decline," Dalrymple said. "With growth have come challenges for school districts, particularly those in the state's oil-producing counties. We have provided significant resources to assist these schools, but we can do more to ensure that our educators have the resources they need to provide the best education possible."
Dalrymple's plan will increase the amount of funding available to school districts for capital construction projects through expanded access to favorable loans. The plan also calls for creating a special grant pool within the Oil and Gas Impact Grant Fund to address unforeseen impacts on fast-growing schools. Dalrymple will propose in his next budget request to the 63rd Legislative Assembly the following plan to continue addressing the challenges faced by rapid enrollment schools:
Setting aside $200 million in the Strategic Investment and Improvement Fund to provide low-interest loans to qualified school districts throughout the state for the construction of new schools or for improvements or expansions to existing school buildings. The loan fund will be in addition to a $50 million school loan program provided through the state's Coal Development Trust Fund.
Increasing loan eligibility to $20 million per project and 90 percent of project costs. The loans could be available at interest rates as low as one percent. Loan applications would be received and approved by the Superintendent of Public Instruction based on need and the relative wealth of the school district. Similar to the loan provisions established in the Coal Development Trust Fund, an advantage of the loan program will be that school districts in oil-producing counties will issue a warrant to be satisfied by future distributions from the state oil production tax. The loans will not be considered a debt for school districts in oil-producing counties, but rather a pre-payment of future tax allocations.
Setting aside $25 million in Oil and Gas Impact Grant funds during the 2013-15 biennium solely for rapidly growing schools impacted by oil development. Dalrymple will propose that the Oil and Gas Impact Grant Advisory Board include representation from school superintendents. During the past school year, the state provided more than $10 million in Oil and Gas Impact Grant funds to address school needs in oil-producing counties.
Forming an advisory group of western school superintendents, teachers, counselors and school board members to keep state officials informed of actual school enrollments and immediate challenges. The Governor will also appoint an Advisor on Rapidly Growing Schools who will assist superintendents and other school officials with planning and growth strategies.
The Governor's Education Summit, held at the Grand Dakota Lodge and Conference Center in Dickinson, included presentations and panel discussions from educators experienced in managing rapid growth schools, researchers and other experts. Issues addressed at the one-day summit included transient student needs, managing new construction projects, forecasting property tax collections, projecting school enrollments and maximizing school facilities. Providing the summit's keynote address was David Vroonland, superintendent of the Frenship Independent School District in Wolfforth, Texas, and chairman of the Texas Fast Growth Schools Coalition.