State-level spending in Minnesota on K-12 education represents over a quarter of the state’s expenditures by program, second only to expenditures on health and human services. This spending is supplemented by federal aid and local property tax levies to create an education spending paradigm on par with other states. However – and as one might expect – Minnesota receives fewer federal dollars per pupil than all but three other states (Census report here). It is also interesting to note that Minnesota funds its 340 school districts and 143 charter schools with fewer local revenues than all but thirteen other states. The end result is a heavy reliance upon state revenues for education programs.
In 2008-2009, Minnesota state sources provided $6.6 billion in funding for the state’s 800,000 pupils. Due to socioeconomic differences across school districts, and despite policymakers’ efforts, this money is not always spread as equally as it might be. A clear indication of this lies in the fact that, “[i]n fiscal year 2008, school districts comprising the top 5% in terms of general education revenue will have approximately 25% more revenue to spend than districts comprising the bottom 5%.”
This leads naturally to inquiries as to the fairness and equity of Minnesota’s education spending. At the heart of the matter is the state’s alarming achievement gap, issues of teacher performance measurement and compensation, and the perhaps one-sided controversy surrounding school vouchers and charter schools. In more detail:
- Minnesota students score higher than or at the national average across the board, independent of race, but Caucasian pupils have somehow been given a tremendous lead over minority students.
- The beleaguered teaching profession is suffering from a lack of competitive pay and a protracted crisis of credibility in the absence of an effective performance standard.
- School vouchers and charter schools continue to stand accused of siphoning off precious state general education aid to private institutions and to charter services instead of disadvantaged districts.
A more palatable option might be to give serious consideration to a new measure of teacher performance – especially as teacher salaries constitute upward of 60 percent of all education costs. If we turn teacher compensation into a competitive, performance-based living wage, we may see that Minnesota’s $6.6 billion is able to go just a little farther.