Program helps N.D. high school students

Low-income high school juniors and seniors can get help paying for dual credit courses through the new North Dakota College Access Network administered by Bank of North Dakota.

Applications are available at Funding is limited; applications will be considered by submission date. The assistance covers tuition, fees and books.

To be eligible, a student must be a junior or senior attending a North Dakota high school, receive approval from a school district superintendent or designee to take a dual credit course, and qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

For more information, call 1-800-554-2717.

Dalrymple presents budget address

BISMARCK—Property tax relief, more money for infrastructure needs in oil country and improvements to college campuses are among the funding priorities that Gov. Jack Dalrymple outlined in his first budget address today.

Dalrymple presented his speech in the House chamber before state lawmakers, members of the public and statewide elected officials.

The 2011-13 executive budget was created with input from the state Office of Management and Budget, cabinet agencies and the Governor’s Office.

“Together, I believe we have produced a budget for the people of North Dakota that is farsighted and pragmatic, a budget that will continue to lead our state forward,” Dalrymple said.

The “overarching message” of the budget is to fund priorities, provide tax relief and build reserves for the future, he said. Here’s a breakdown by topic area:

Infrastructure in the west

Under Dalrymple’s proposal, $958 million would be allocated to benefit the state’s 17 oil and gas producing counties. Of that, $371 million from the permanent oil tax trust fund would be for state, county and township roads in oil country.

The state Department of Transportation would set the priorities for the $229 million for state roads, using the same procedures normally used for needs, Dalrymple said.

The $142 million for county and township roads will be distributed according to a comprehensive study recently finished and with input from the DOT, Dalrymple said.

Dalrymple recommends an emergency clause for the county and township funding so projects can begin.

Dalrymple also proposes $100 million for the Oil and Gas Impact Grant Fund. Right now, this fund has an $8 million cap per biennium and is funded with money from the 5 percent gross production oil tax.

Money goes to political subdivisions negatively affected by oil and gas activity. Most of the funding is used for infrastructure repair and improvement projects.

The Energy Development Impact Office received $31.9 million in grant requests this year for the $4 million available.

Office of Management and Budget Director Pam Sharp said there would need to be a change in law to raise the cap on the fund and revise the tax formula.

Dalrymple said he’d like to see $35 million of the amount go to the largest and fastest growing cities. The remaining $65 million would be for smaller cities, counties, townships and other entities.

In addition, other state funds that benefit oil and gas counties through oil tax collections are expected to reach $247 million.

Dalrymple also said $240 million in regular state and federal highway funds “that would happen anyhow” is budgeted for the Williston, Minot and Dickinson DOT districts.

This includes “super-two” construction on U.S. 85, he said.

“This region of North Dakota is doing its share to build North Dakota’s economy, and we need to do our share to help them with their challenges of growth,” Dalrymple said.

Dalrymple also proposes allocating $25 million for the Williston region for a new municipal water supply system.


Infrastructure in the east

“In the Red River Valley, flood protection is an essential, long-term priority,” Dalrymple said. “We need to end the annual anxiety caused by chronic flooding, especially in the Fargo-West Fargo area.”

Dalrymple reaffirmed the state’s commitment of about $300 million over 10 years for a flood diversion project.

The budget sets aside an additional $30 million from the Resources Trust Fund for a total of $75 million in initial funding, he said. This trust fund receives money from oil tax revenue and is used to construct water-related projects and to fund energy conservation programs.

For Devils Lake, Dalrymple proposes committing up to $120 million to construct a second outlet on the east end of Devils Lake, expand the existing outlet on the west end and build a control structure on Tolna Coulee.

Not all of that money—which will also come from the Resources Trust Fund—would be allocated during the 2011-13 biennium, Dalrymple said.

As far as infrastructure needs elsewhere, Dalrymple said he’s “not completely ignoring everyone else” and “understands needs in other areas.”

“We feel that the regular highway fund appropriation can cover all of those needs,” he said.

Dalrymple proposes dedicating 25 percent of the state motor vehicle excise tax to the state highway distribution fund, so an additional $46 million is available for roads. Of that, $17 million would flow directly to counties, cities and townships, he said.

Property tax relief

Dalrymple proposes $350 million go toward property tax relief and $150 million for income tax relief. This would bring the total tax relief from 2009-13 to $900 million.

“It is important that the hard-working men and women of North Dakota see a substantial share of our economic gains reflected in their tax bills,” Dalrymple said.

For a family making between $60,000 and $80,000 with a $150,000 home, overall this would mean between $750 and $850 in savings in property and income taxes per year, Dalrymple spokesman Jeff Zent said.

K-12 education

Dalrymple, chairman of the state’s Commission on Education Improvement, is supporting $102.3 million in increased funding for K-12 education.

This includes $54.3 million to complete school funding adequacy. There is also $32 million to increase the per-student payment by $100 each year of the 2011-13 biennium.

Dalrymple also proposes $7.5 million be set aside for school districts interested in creating an alternative teacher compensation system. An additional $8.5 million is proposed for transportation, principal mentoring, early childhood education and other initiatives.

Higher education

Dalrymple proposes an increase of $82 million in ongoing funding and $46 million in one-time funding for the 11 colleges of the North Dakota University System.

This should allow tuition at two-year schools to be held even and four-year schools to limit tuition increases to no more than 2.5 percent per year, he said.

Dalrymple supports five major capital projects for the University System, including a joint University System/University of North Dakota information technology facility.

The other projects are the Rhoades Science Center addition and renovation at Valley City State University; funding for the Stoxen Library at Dickinson State University; the final phase of the research greenhouse complex at the North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station in Fargo; and the Old Main renovation at the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton.

Dalrymple said he also allocated $5 million for a new approach to higher education funding based on desired educational outcomes. For example, this could look at degrees awarded, students graduating on time and degrees completed by low-income students, he said.

Dalrymple said the plan is to ask the State Board of Higher Education to work with him to establish a new Commission on Higher Education Funding. The group would work to develop recommendations to improve the equity, transparency and effectiveness of higher education funding.

Dalrymple also recommends higher education salary increases of 3 percent each year of the biennium. However, 1 percent of each year will be devoted to the teacher fund for retirement, he said. The state would match the 1 percent and fully fund the increase in employee health insurance, he said.

Youth and human services

Dalrymple said he welcomes legislation regarding a tiered or graduated driver’s license program. He also spoke of the headlines about teen suicide rates.

“These highlight the need to make more resources available for critical mental health services for our citizens,” he said.

The budget recommends an increase of nearly $8 million across several agencies to address the mental health challenges in the state.

This includes $6.1 million for the Department of Human Services to fund psychiatric in-patient care, additional local resources to help stabilize patients suffering a mental health crisis and more resources to treat chemical dependency, he said.

He also recommends $1 million for suicide prevention efforts by the state Health Department and an additional $100,000 to help fight youth suicide on reservations.

The budget includes $900,000 for campuses and high schools to help address mental health problems among students.

Long-term care and public employees

Dalrymple proposes a 3 percent increase each year of the 2011-13 biennium for nursing homes and other health care providers, as well as for providers serving people with developmental disabilities and mental illness.

He also recommends a 3 percent salary increase each year of the biennium for public employees and fully funding the increase in public employee health care premiums.

The numbers

The total budget is $9.3 billion, said Sharp of the Office of Management and Budget. The breakdown is roughly one-third general fund, one-third federal funds and one-third special funds, she said.

The general fund ongoing revenues for 2011-13 are projected to be about $3.197 billion, with $3.185 billion in expected in spending.

Dalrymple said the budget recommendation represents an increase of 5.6 percent in spending per year. However, he said it’s important to note that more than half of the increase is due to reduced federal funding in human services that the state needs to replace.

Excluding the $174 million in discontinued federal funding, the increase in general fund spending is 2.7 percent per year, he said.

The 2011-13 executive budget neither borrows nor bonds and imposes no new taxes or fees, Dalrymple said.

The latest projections show the state ending the biennium on June 30 with a $1 billion surplus: $80 million left in the general fund, $620 million in the permanent oil tax trust fund and $325 million in the budget stabilization fund. However, money can only be spent from this last fund if there’s a revenue shortfall.

The executive budget anticipates a $1.2 billion state surplus by June 30, 2013. Of this amount, $619 million is expected in the Legacy Fund. In the November election, North Dakota voters approved the creation of the fund, which will be supported with oil tax revenue.

State lawmakers will spend the coming months of the legislative session hashing out the budget before it is finalized.

Lawmakers discuss physician shortage, remedial education

BISMARCK—North Dakota is projected to be short about 210 physicians by 2025, state lawmakers were told Wednesday.

As a result, the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences will ask the Legislature for more money this coming session to address the problem.

School officials presented a list of recommendations to lawmakers on the interim Higher Education Committee.

The school would like to add 16 additional medical student slots per year, 30 additional health sciences students and 17 additional residency slots.

Officials also would like a new health sciences building and want to create a geriatrics training program. Another recommendation is offering a master of public health degree in conjunction with North Dakota State University.

David Molmen, chairman of the medical school’s advisory council, said the state’s aging population and associated medical needs mean there has to be larger medical classes to meet demand.

Students who attend medical school in North Dakota and complete their residency in the state are more likely to stay in the state to practice, said Joshua Wynne, dean of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

“It’s essential to retain more of our own, to try to get as many of our students to train in North Dakota and stay in North Dakota,” he said.

A new health sciences building is No. 5 on the North Dakota University System’s 2011-13 list of major capital project priorities. The building is estimated to cost $28.9 million. Additional funding would be needed to grow the school’s programs.

Sen. Tim Flakoll, R-Fargo, asked how many students are now turned away from the school each year. Wynne said there are five applicants for every one student accepted.

He said the school could increase class size by 16 medical students and still maintain the high level of students graduating now. There is also “substantial interest” from health care systems to expand residency opportunities, he said.

The proposals will be discussed further during the legislative session.

In other business, lawmakers approved a bill draft to research remedial education in the state. About 30 percent of North Dakota students entering college need remedial education, Sen. David Nething, R-Jamestown, said.

If approved, the study would look at where students needing remedial education graduate from, as well as the causes for it. The research would include a review of efforts to reduce the number of remedial education students at colleges.

The study would also look at the alignment of elementary and high school curriculum and textbooks with college admissions standards. A report would then be prepared for the 2013 Legislature.

The bill will now go forward to the 2011 Legislature for approval.

Video and story from Arne Duncan visit

Here’s the video link for U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s visit to North Dakota on Tuesday:

The Michael Steele video will be posted this morning yet. Yesterday got a little crazy with so much going on.

Here’s the Duncan story:

NEW SALEM, N.D. — The nation’s top education official praised a rural North Dakota school on Tuesday and said he got a lot from his visit there.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan spent about two hours at New Salem-Almont High School during his first trip to North Dakota.

“This is just a great school. This is a community that’s absolutely committed to education,” Duncan said. “I love the use of technology. I love the commitment of the teachers. And I think there are so many strengths here that we want to build upon. So I really enjoyed the day and got a lot from it.”

Duncan visited three classrooms, including an interactive television anatomy class taught by Darrell Howard of Grant County High School in Elgin.

Duncan asked Howard how ITV changed how he teaches. Howard said it’s harder to do dissections when he isn’t in the same room as students, and it’s harder to take field trips.

However, he said ITV provides opportunities for students who wouldn’t otherwise get certain classes at their schools.

Howard then asked Duncan what efforts were being made in regard to adequate yearly progress and No Child Left Behind. Duncan said he wants to make significant changes and is more interested in seeing growth than just test scores.

One student asked Duncan why he came to North Dakota. Duncan said he wants to understand the strengths and challenges in rural school systems and said site visits are “a big part of my learning curve.”

Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., who invited Duncan to North Dakota, said laws can’t be aimed at just large schools, and it’s important to make sure the unique situations of rural schools are considered.

Duncan also met with about 50 state education leaders during a roundtable discussion.

Fargo Davies High School Principal Jeff Schatz asked Duncan how he thought students should be assessed to determine whether a school is successful or a failure.

Duncan said much of the testing today doesn’t work well and resources are being put behind creating the next generation of assessments.

“I think we have to develop much more sophisticated, much more thoughtful assessments,” Duncan said. “You don’t want to have no assessments. You don’t want to sweep children under the rug. (But) you don’t want them to take assessments they don’t understand.”

Bismarck Century High School teacher Nick Archuleta said North Dakota couldn’t compete under the criteria for Race to the Top, a grant program designed to encourage and reward states for creating education innovation and reform.

He asked what rural states can do to become more competitive for grants.

Duncan called it a fair question and critique and said his department is working to level the playing field to make sure rural areas can compete.

Dakota Draper, president of the North Dakota Education Association, asked what the federal government was going to do to help teachers adjust to new standards.

Duncan said it’s going to take time and professional development.

“Change is hard. I think teachers are being asked to do more with less today, more so than ever before,” Duncan said. “But I think this is the right thing to do for the country, and we need to work together to get there.”

N.D. teacher pay initative discussed

BISMARCK — North Dakota is looking to get creative when it comes to paying teachers.

The North Dakota Commission on Education Improvement discussed an alternative teacher compensation system at its Tuesday meeting.

It’s apparent both nationally and in North Dakota that the traditional means of compensating teachers is under increasing stress, said Greg Burns, a commission member and executive director of the North Dakota Education Association.

“The traditional salary schedule is very good at enumerating how long a teacher has been teaching and how many credits a teacher has accrued. Beyond that, it doesn’t tell us much,” he said. “It brings no idea of what it is that people are actually doing when they enter a classroom.”

Nationally, most teachers favor a different compensation system as long as it contains multiple measures, he said.

Burns outlined a proposal that would ask the Legislature to set aside $7.5 million for school districts interested in creating an alternative teacher compensation system.

The system would be negotiated between representatives of the school district and the authorized exclusive representative. Failure to agree on a system would disqualify a district from applying for funding.

An alternative pay system would need to be based on multiple factors, such as (but not limited to) pay for hard-to-staff positions, added knowledge or skills/professional development, student educational growth or added responsibilities like mentoring, coaching or instructional leadership.

Successful applicants for funding should also describe what role evaluations will play in the compensation system and how professional development will be included.

Funding could be for an entire district or individual buildings. However, all teachers in a building or district receiving funding must be eligible for extra pay.

No teacher would suffer a pay reduction as a result of the compensation system funding.

After districts successfully negotiated an alternative teacher compensation system, the agreement would be sent to a state review panel, which would approve or deny funding applications. The panel would oversee the program so money is spent how it’s intended, Burns said.

There are 100 ways of compensating teachers, so there isn’t one right answer, he said. However, the key to coming up with a successful district plan is collaboration among a large group of stakeholders, he said.

North Dakota school districts will not be forced to come up with an alternative compensation plan, Burns said. The goal is to put the program funding out there for districts that want to try it.

Rep. RaeAnn Kelsch, R-Mandan, asked Burns if he thought large school districts in the state would be more apt to try the program than the small districts. Burns said the ability to try the program shouldn’t be influenced by the size of the district.

Commission Chairman and Lt. Gov. Jack Dalrymple said the work of Burns and his subcommittee “is a breakthrough moment in the history of K-12 education.”

“I really hope that we can help move this forward,” Dalrymple said. “(This is) something that’s been under discussion I think for 25 years in North Dakota. This is the first moment that I’ve seen something that I really think can work.”

Ideas for improving K-12 education

BISMARCK — Continuing the North Dakota Scholarship program, providing funding for preschool programming and improving curriculum alignment between high schools and colleges are among the priorities for state education officials.

The North Dakota Commission on Education Improvement met Tuesday to review a draft report of its recommendations for the governor and state lawmakers.

Discussing issues related to students, the commission recommends using money from the state Land and Minerals Trust Fund to ensure the continuation of the North Dakota Scholarship program. Students are eligible to receive up to $6,000 if they meet certain criteria and attend college in the state.

The income from land leasing has been “explosive,” so the trust fund is “a very strong source of funding,” said Lt. Gov. Jack Dalrymple, the commission chairman.

The commission also recommends grants for two pilot projects to improve language arts alignment between high schools and colleges so students are better prepared for college.

A recommendation from the North Dakota Youth Council to create advising centers on each college campus also made the report.

Commission members also discussed early childhood education in the report. The 2009 Legislature rejected a special funding factor for pre-kindergarten education.

The commission recommends spending $830,000 to expand the “Gearing Up For Kindergarten” program offered through the North Dakota State University Extension Service.

The program provides classes for 4-year-olds and their parents to become familiar with concepts that will be introduced in kindergarten.

The commission’s report adds up to $81 million in K-12 funding requests, but more than half is for funding programs already in place, Dalrymple said.

The largest chunk — $40.2 million — is to continue the state’s current state aid formula payments for a full two-year period, he said.

This assumes the per-student payment would remain at $3,779 for both years of the 2011-13 biennium and is related to completing the school funding adequacy measures enacted in 2009.

Another $13.6 million addresses prior legislative action to add another day to the school year and to implement a factor of .025 for at-risk students, or those considered eligible for the free and reduced cost lunch program.

The approximately $30 million in new funding recommendations include:

* $15 million to increase the per-student payment by $50 per student each year of the 2011-13 biennium.

* $7.5 million for an alternative teacher compensation system. (See related story.)

* $2.5 million to increase the weighting factor for special education average daily membership from .07 to .073 to reflect more accurately the number of students needing special education services.

* $5 million to increase state reimbursement for transportation costs. Reimbursement for large buses would increase from 92 cents per mile to $1.03 per mile. Small buses would see an increase from 44 cents per mile to 46 cents per mile. The rate per student ride would go from 24 cents to 26 cents.

Discussing the report and its costs, Dalrymple said the state is going to face a legislative session where several of the state’s largest agencies are going to have big funding requests.

“So, in spite of the fact that the economy in North Dakota is doing well, the demands on the budget are tremendous. Tremendous,” he said.

The North Dakota Commission on Education Improvement will meet again in October to discuss the report draft again before determining a final version.