The House of Representatives Ways & Means Committee has set aside $15 million from the supplemental budget for the Public School System, in compliance with the constitutional mandate that 25 percent of general funds must go to PSS.
According to committee chair Rep. Angel Demapan (R-Saipan), the $15 million was at the request of the Board of Education, but the Department of Finance already initially released $12 million to meet the immediate needs of PSS.
“When they [BOE] submitted their listing, there was a total of $15 million but they came forward stating that their immediate need and highest priority amounted to $12 million. So we reached that understanding and I informed them because this is the first BGRT [business gross revenue tax] for fiscal year 2017,” he said.
“We are expecting more collection and supplemental revenues throughout the fiscal year and so we would deliver their remaining $3 million in the next round,” he added.
Demapan said his priority is to meet the list that BOE provided the committee.
“We wanted to make sure before we close out this year that we make good on our word to give them the $12 million for their need. Next round is whenever the governor decides to identify additional revenues. There are couple of months that are being audited [and] collections are still coming in so once that is finalized and we will be able to do it,” he said
BOE board member Herman Guerrero said that $15 million is the base, but it does not mean it should stop there.
“You need to look at it in terms of what are the needs of the schools and of the children so you can improve student learning and provide a good education,” he said.
“Sometimes, legislators think that’s all we are entitled to. If anything, the base is there to guarantee funding PSS of not less than 25 percent, but they can always give us more. They are always very reluctant to do that,” he added.
Guerrero said that PSS is provided funding under the CNMI Constitution and BOE is dependent on that.
“Schools in the [United] States are normally funded through property taxes so all the property taxes collected is exclusively for education. But the thing is, we don’t have property taxes over here and they even prohibit coming up with property taxes here unless people approve it,” he said.
“So we need to get funding for education somewhere else and that is the reason why the only source of funding the government have is through the revenues that the government collects or portions of it. They need to look at a bigger perspective on how funding is done somewhere else in the [United] States,” he added.
Guerrero believes that PSS funding should not be delayed since education is a critical.
“His [governor’s] hands are not tied and he can do a lot of things,” he added
Guerrero said that the BOE still has the certified question as a legal remedy in the event the Supreme Court’s decision is needed to clarify how the constitution should be interpreted in terms of determining the budget of PSS.