Education Minnesota draws a line in the sand


Schools are in desperate financial shape and need immediate help, Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher said March 19. He called on the state to appropriate more money for education.

“The governor and legislators need to step up” and fully fund schools, Dooher said. State education funds have not kept up with inflation and mandates, forcing school districts to ask local voters for money to stay afloat.

Even with higher local taxes, schools often come up financially short. Education Minnesota, a union representing more than 70,000 teachers, surveyed 46 school districts and found a $113 million budget shortfall, equal to about $300 per student.

Dooher said cutbacks will force districts to cut about 1,000 teachers this year, equal or outpacing possible layoffs in the airline or medical equipment industries.

“That’s not acceptable,” Dooher said.

The problem doesn’t lie with poor planning or overspending by school districts, it lies with state underfunding, he said.

Dooher pointed to Osseo Area Schools as an example of insufficient financial support. Even though voters approved one of three levy questions in November, the district will cut $16.3 million from next year’s budget, lay off 166 teachers, close two elementary schools and combine three others. For complete coverage, click here.

Osseo’s financial disaster shows the long-term effects of state underfunding, he said. Layoffs are forcing experienced teachers out of the classroom, which weakens the quality of education and therefore the quality of Minnesota’s workforce. Lawmakers should show concern for the state economy by funding education, he said.

Dooher acknowledged the state’s $1 billion budget deficit, but said the state needs to fund education now and lawmakers need to stop making excuses for insufficient funding.

In January, Pawlenty brushed off questions about the insufficiency of the 1 percent increase, saying schools received an $800 million increase over the next two years. However, $200 million goes to one-time funds that are gone after the biennium, and more than $320 million goes to blunt the economic trauma of unfunded special education mandates. However, the state’s special education deficit will drop by less than 20 percent for the next two years and rise past $600 million by 2010. For complete coverage, click here.

State school superintendents agree with Dooher. A recent Minnesota 2020 survey of 177 school district superintendents shows 85 percent of districts must have operating levies to stay afloat; 35 percent without an operating levy will be forced to go to voters within three years; 96 percent said the way schools are funded is bad for education and 88 percent said if things don’t change, education will get worse. For complete survey results, click here.

Education Minnesota’s research showed that while the funding problem exists statewide, it is worse in districts with low property wealth. Voters in poorer districts are less likely to vote for levies, which mean they offer a poorer education than districts with high property wealth.

“It shouldn’t matter if you live in Black Duck or Bloomington to determine if you have a chemistry teacher,” Dooher said.