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North Dakota schools to get $419M from trust fund amid economic downturn, coronavirus

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Willow Park Elementary students find bikes, friends and parents at the end of the school day on May 24, 2019, in West Fargo. Forum file photo

BISMARCK — North Dakota Superintendent Kristen Baelser announced Tuesday, July 7, that state K-12 public schools will receive $419.3 million for the next two years from an education trust fund, with the aim of softening any blows to state aid resulting from the coronavirus, low oil prices and overall economic downturns.

The money will come from the Common Schools Trust Fund, which gathers revenue from sources such as energy taxes, and the leasing of agricultural land. The fund had about $4.9 billion in assets as of the end of last year.

The $419.3 million being doled out for the next two years represents a 14.3% boost from existing spending. In the last eight years, the fund has provided $991.5 million for the education of North Dakota students.

“This fund has been a sustainable and robust source of support for the education of our students,” Baesler said in a statement. “It has helped to increase our state aid for education, which is vitally important at a time when enrollment has been rising.”

Statewide student enrollment was 94,729 in the 2010-11 school year. Since then, enrollment has risen 19% to 112,858 in the 2019-20 school year.

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The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction is expected to release a set of recommendations within the coming weeks on the question of whether schools should hold in-person classes or online instruction in the fall.

Baesler has said she favors giving local officials more power over the decision, based on the prevalence of COVID-19 in their community.

Readers can reach reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at mgriffith@forumcomm.com.

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