Education standards bill passedThe North Dakota Legislature approved an major education standards bill after some lawmakers shifted their complaints from the cost of the bill to the formula used for splitting up federal stimulus money. The elementary and secondary education bill calls for more rigorous academic standards and adds counselors. The package spends about $110 million in state money, an amount that was criticized when the bill was first proposed.
By: By Dave Kolpack, The Associated Press , The Jamestown Sun
BISMARCK — The North Dakota Legislature approved an major education standards bill after some lawmakers shifted their complaints from the cost of the bill to the formula used for splitting up federal stimulus money.
The elementary and secondary education bill calls for more rigorous academic standards and adds counselors. The package spends about $110 million in state money, an amount that was criticized when the bill was first proposed.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Rep. RaeAnn Kelsch, R-Mandan, who chairs the House Education Committee, said in an interview. “The dollar amount in there is fine. We haven’t heard any squawking about it probably since the beginning of the session.”
The House voted 86-6 Friday to approve the bill, followed by a 46-0 vote in the Senate.
Supporters of the plan say that new academic standards should prepare students to compete in a global economy. The bill increases college scholarships and offers more training for teachers. Students who are struggling in high school will have the option of going for a secondary degree.
“If the curriculum changes and scholarship incentive program were the only thing we did this session, it would have been a monumental accomplishment in that regard alone,” Sen. Tim Flakoll, R-Fargo, told fellow lawmakers. “But this bill does even more than that to insure a quality education for all students.”
Some lawmakers in the House complained the bill was cumbersome, and they wanted provisions filtered out for separate consideration. But the loudest objections were over the method for handing out $85 million in federal stimulus money.
Rep. Rod Froelich, D-Selfridge, said he was voting against the bill because he wants the stimulus money split up under the formula used to fund a federal program for low-income students, Title I.
“If the state of North Dakota has a formula for funding kids, why aren’t we sticking with it?” Froelich said.
“There’s clearly winners and losers,” said Rep. Jon Nelson, R-Rugby.
House Speaker David Monson, R-Osnabrock, a former school administrator, gave up the gavel during the middle of the floor debate so he could comment on the stimulus spending.
“We don’t have very many kids to start with. We don’t have very many kids at risk in most of our schools,” Monson said. “So the Title I formula does not work very well to distribute large amounts of money.”
Other discussion centered on the addition of career advisers, at an estimated cost of $2.7 million. The plan also increases the ratio of counselors from one for every 400 students to one for every 300 students.
Rep. Jim Kasper, R, Fargo, said the plan to let high school juniors choose an optional program to get their diploma could allow students to quit on themselves too early.
“What we ought to be doing is to teach these youngsters to strive to be all they can become, to strive for their excellence and their potential that they have within them, and not make it easier to take the easier route out,” Kasper said.
Kelsch said the standards in the optional program are not easy.
“The opt-out requirements are more rigorous and are higher than anyone of you ever had when you gradated from high school,” she told her colleagues.
Rep. Bob Skarphol, R-Tioga, said several of the ideas in the bill, including career counselors, are unique but worth trying.
“I would hope that this assembly next session will put in some language that requires that we reevaluate some of the new things that are being done in here, and ensure that they’re doing what they’re intended to do,” Skarphol said. “And if they are not, that we repeal them.”
The bill is HB1400.