The Chairman of the House Education Committee says this morning’s will be the last dawn hearing on the foundation formula. It is sure not be the last hearing on the topic, however.

Representative Mike Lair’s (R-Chillicothe) committee heard a presentation from a the Executive Director of the staff for the Joint Committee on Education, Stacy Preis. She outlined the formula that is in place now, how it replaced its predecessor, and what some issues are that lawmakers should note when considering changing it.

The House Education Committee hears testimony from Representative Mike Thomson (R-Maryville).

She explained the current formula is based on adequately funding schools, with an “adequacy target” based on the spending practices of successful schools. That target has held steady since the new formula phase-in began in 2006, but it could change next year. “There is language in the statute right now that says if funding is insufficient to fully fund the formula, that adequacy target…may be adjusted to accommodate appropriations.”

She says that provision was not intended to accommodate multi-million dollar shortfalls. It was meant to make minor adjustments for differences between projection and actual revenues.

It presents an issue if the formula is not fully funded next year. “If the hold harmless calculation shows you’re funded as hold harmless, that adequacy target has no impact on you at all. You’re funded under your old money,” Preis said. This would mean hold harmless districts would receive their entire payment amount, while those that are funded through the formula might see a cut.

Joint Education Committee Chairman Mike Thomson (R-Maryville) says that means some hold harmless districts are less inclined to see a change in the formula. “I think they’re saying ‘hey, we’ve been taking a hit. Let’s let that thing go over the cliff…let’s get what we can.’ I don’t mean that critically…but everybody’s looking for the best dollar that they can get.”

Thomson says uncertainty over the adequacy target means that formula districts and hold harmless districts have reason to fear the outcome.

He outlined for the House Committee his bill that would not change the formula, but would lay out how money would be distributed if it is not fully funded. “There’s nothing in the statutes…that says if we do not fully fund the formula, how do we distribute the money?”

His bill would take effect next year, when the formula would be fully implemented. “This is the last of the seven-year phase-in period. Right now our schools are being funded 86 percent on a new formula, 14 percent on the old formula, and next year it will be 100 percent new formula.”

The same bill died in the Senate last year, Thomson says because other issues were attached to it, such as the Turner fix. This year he wants to see it go through the process unbridled, contrary to the wishes of others in his caucus including House Speaker Steven Tilley who has said he wants to bundle education issues together.

See our earlier story on the Speaker’s wishes for education issues.

Thomson says, “We think that it’s even more essential this year that this bill passes because now we have even a bigger difference between where we are and where we should be on the fully funded formula. That means…some of our schools are even taking a bigger hit that they shouldn’t be taking.”

The House Committee is scheduled to meet again Tuesday, January 17 at 1 p.m. and Wednesday, January 18 at 2 p.m.  Public testimony will be taken at those hearings.

Representative Thomson will present his bill before the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee Wednesday, January 18 at 8 a.m.