Bill gives money back to taxpayers when schools overestimate enrollment

By Freddy Monares/UM Legislative News Service

HELENA – When schools overestimate the number of students in their district, Montana property taxpayers end up eating that cost.

House Bill 390, carried by Rep. Donald Jones, R-Billings, would return the excess money collected back to taxpayers the following year.

Rep. Donald Jones, R-Billings

The House Education Committee will hear first testimony on the bill Friday.

Eric Feaver, president of the teachers union MEA-MFT, said he supports the bill.

“What it says about overestimating is important, and we certainly don’t want people in any way to think that school districts are trying to scam the system and this addresses that,” Feaver said.

Overestimations happened in a number of districts in 2016 and 2017, according the fiscal note on the bill. The money collected is a mixture of state and local dollars.

In 2016, six of 10 school districts that were anticipating increases in enrollment didn’t get those increases. The year after, four of nine districts also failed to hit their anticipated increases in enrollment.

Feaver said when this happens the state gets money back from the difference, but schools can keep the local money.

“This bill would put sideboards around that, so overestimating would not be of any advantage to a school district,” Feaver said.

The bill also aims to change a $1 million appropriation for school technology grants to be used as matching funds for a federal program to provide schools with Internet access. Bob Vogel, lobbyist for Montana School Boards Association, liked that part of the bill.

“It’s going to leverage those dollars into probably up to $20 million in broadband access,” Vogel said.

Freddy Monares is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.