Friday, April 15, 2011

Here We Go Again, Schools Lose As Minnesota Legislators Fight Over School Funding

Last year, the Minnesota State Legislature did not pass an Omnibus K-12 spending bill. Hours before midnight on the final day of session, the Minnesota House of Representatives amended the bill and successfully passed it, and that’s as far as it went. One of the key sticking points that held up the bill in the House was the inclusion of a new spending proposal known as "The New Minnesota Miracle." The intention of the new spending changes according to the then Chair of the K-12 Education Finance Committee Mindy Greiling was to:

Fundamentally change the way the state funds public education. The new miracle would raise education funding for every pupil, and help to make students ready for success. The ready for success component of this plan is to prepare students for their life after high school, whether they choose to attend a university, technical college, trade schools, or enter the job market.”

One of the fundamental ways this plan would accomplish this goal was to increase the basic school funding allowance per pupil from $5,124 to $7500, and index it to inflation. In addition, compensatory revenue for schools with special needs such as providing reduced price lunches, provide assistance to students who are non-native English speakers, and give relief to school districts that have sparsity issues (low populated districts where students are disbursed over a large land area). Overall, the bill called for an additional $1.7 billion per year in K-12 education spending.

However, that was then, and this is now. Under the Republican controlled House, the squabble over school funding isn’t on the merits of appropriating additional funding to schools. It’s now about cutting spending on school programs, teacher development workshops, and freezing compensatory revenue. Some of the actual passages in the bill related to these topics include:

2011 Omnibus Education Bill Summary

· (b) Repeals the staff development set-aside (§ 122A.61), the January 15 late contract deadline penalty (§ 123B.05), and training and experience revenue (§ 126C.10, subd. 5) effective for revenue for fiscal years 2012 and later.

· Compensatory education revenue - Delinks compensatory revenue from the basic formula

· Secondary sparsity revenue - Delinks secondary sparsity revenue from the formula allowance.

· Elementary sparsity revenue - Delinks elementary sparsity revenue from the formula allowance.

· Basic revenue - Increases the basic formula allowance from $5,124 to $5,174 in fiscal year 2012

The dispute doesn’t stop there, unfortunately. Some provision in the bill take aim at the collective bargaining rights of teachers including issues surrounding negotiating teacher contracts, and eliminating conditions under which teachers could strike. Education Minnesota’s President Tom Dooher urges Governor Mark Dayton to veto the bill citing amongst other things “Wisconsin-style attacks on collective bargaining rights.”

While the battle over school funding continues at the state capital, schools are continuing to struggle year in and year out. It’s bad enough to dramatically shift the discussion of school funding from providing necessary additional funding one year, to cutting and freezing the very next. What’s even worse is that this year’s K-12 appropriation is financed by next year’s debt. One of the best choices we can make as a state, whose economy can be classified as stagnant at best, is to invest in human capital in order to promote growth. It’s one of the surest ways to collect benefit more from in the future than we have to pay for in the present.

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