Mandan News

Increase in school funding

North Dakota schools can expect a big jump in aid from a state trust fund in the next two years, says Kirsten Baesler, the state superintendent of public instruction.

The Common Schools Trust Fund is now providing $130.4 million to North Dakota’s public schools as part of the state’s two-year education aid budget.

In the next biennium, which begins July 1, 2015, the state Department of Trust Lands expects to provide $204.3 million in aid payments to schools, Baesler said. That’s an increase of 56.7 percent.

“We’re experiencing a ton of growth in North Dakota, and to have that type of increase delivered directly to our local school districts for them to spend on the needs that they are experiencing will be very, very helpful to achieving the academic success that we want all of our students to have,” Baesler said.

The trust fund now has $3 billion. Its revenues come from payments for energy exploration and production on state trust land, income from leasing land for cattle grazing, and investment earnings.

North Dakota’s oil boom and healthy investment returns have helped the fund grow rapidly in recent years, said Lance Gaebe, commissioner of the Department of Trust Lands. Five years ago, its balance was $846.3 million. It took another year for the fund to top $1 billion, and another two years to reach the $2 billion mark.

Baesler is a member of North Dakota’s Board of University and School Lands, which oversees the fund and decides how it is invested. Gov. Jack Dalrymple is chairman of the board, which also includes Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, Secretary of State Al Jaeger and Treasurer Kelly Schmidt. Its membership is specified in the North Dakota Constitution (Article 9, Section 3).

Baesler is the board’s newest member. She joined in January 2013, two months after she was elected as North Dakota’s state school superintendent.

“The fact that we’ve seen such an increase delivers the point that our Land Board has been a very good steward, “ Baesler said. “They have invested well, so that we’ve been able to see these types of gains. My experience on the Land Board, working with the other four members, I’ve really been able to watch and witness how seriously they take this work of investing, so that these types of returns can be given to our school districts and the students – the future of North Dakota.”

The formula used to calculate payments from the Common Schools Trust Fund is part of the state constitution. The fund’s annual balances over five years are averaged, and 10 percent of that balance is distributed over two years.

The payments will be included in the North Dakota Legislature’s package of state aid to schools when lawmakers hold their regular session next year. The 2013 Legislature appropriated $1.84 billion in education aid over two years, a sum that included the money from the Common Schools Trust Fund.

The fund owns 635,000 acres of surface land that is leased to farmers and is primarily used for cattle grazing. It also owns 1.5 million acres of mineral rights, which are leased for production of oil and gas, coal, potash, gravel and other minerals.