Minnesota still shorting education


New figures based on those released by the Minnesota Department of Education show that state school districts remain horribly underfunded. They also prove that education underfunding results in tax hikes throughout the state.

After adjusting for inflation, per-student school funding from the state was nearly four percent less than it was in 2003. The decline is due to a dramatic, 13 percent cut in aid from the state during that time. While districts asked voters to make up the difference, taxpayers in many areas couldn’t stem the flow of money away from schools.

From 2003 to 2010, state aid to Minnesota school districts fell by $1,296 per student. In response, school district taxpayers increased levies for operating funds by an average of $922 per pupil. Because the real per pupil levy increase is smaller than the aid reduction, total school district operating revenue has fallen by $374 per pupil over the last six years.

Therefore, school aid cuts made by state government translate directly to property tax increases. It’s unfortunate: Taxpayers pay higher property taxes at the same time that class sizes increase, teachers are laid off, and course offerings are cut.

While the biggest state aid losers were mostly rural school districts, Minneapolis lost $2,195 per student during that time. While Minneapolis voters approved a referendum for a larger school levy, real per pupil operating revenue in the district for 2010 will remain 3.5 percent below what it was in 2003.

The effect of state aid cuts in districts such as Faribault can be devastating. Funding shortages have caused Faribault school leaders to cut $2.5 million from their budget in the past two years. The district is left with no “give” in its budget. When faced with low test scores this year among elementary schoolers, the district was forced to take away sections of high school world language, family and consumer science, health and industrial technology and reallocate those funds to teachers who will provide remedial education in the elementary schools.

Twenty one school districts have seen a drop of more than 18 percent in state aid since 2003: Ulen-Hitterdal, Nicollet, Round Lake, Fergus Falls, Lake Park-Audubon, Saint Clair, Waconia, Balaton, Faribault, Lanesboro, Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton, Battle Lake, Henning, Nett Lake, Kingsland, Swanville, Grand Rapids, Plainview-Elgin-Millville, Rushford-Peterson, Upsala, and Moorhead.

Minnesota’s largest districts did not go untouched. In Anoka-Hennepin, The district lost $1,105 per student in state aid while voters have added $1,202 to make up the difference. In St. Paul, the district lost $1,746 in state aid while voters approved $909 to fill the gap, for a per-pupil loss of $837. In Minneapolis, the district lost $2,195 while adding $1,933 in added taxes for a deficit of $262 per student. This is a much-improved situation for Minneapolis, which passed a levy referendum last November. Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan lost $913 per student since 2003 and voters agreed to raise taxes by $797 to make up the difference, for a gap of $116. Osseo voters have agreed to help make up for lax state spending: While state aid has dropped by $940 since 2003, the voters approved $1,604 in new taxes for $664 in additional money. South Washington Has lost $1,111 in funding while voters have added $425 to their rolls, creating a deficit of $686. Rochester has seen a drop of $1,545 per student in state funding and an addition of $403 in local property taxes, for a per-student deficit of $1,142. A recent voter approved levy has helped the beleaguered Robbinsdale school district, which has lost $1,100 since 2003 but gained $1,203 with the passage of a levy in November. Elk River has seen a drop of $1,307 since 2003 with a voter-approved increase of $894, for a drop of $413 per student. Lakeville has lost $1,179 in funding since 2003 and gained $975 from voters, for a net loss of $204 per student.

Of Minnesota’s 340 school districts, only two – Milroy and Red Lake Falls – have seen an increase in state aid between 2003 and today. Similarly, only five — Brooklyn Center, Herman-Norcross, Mesabi East, Kittson Central and Pine Point – have less of their income from property taxes than in 2003.

These figures are based on current law. The legislature and Gov. Tim Pawlenty are currently negotiating a new budget.

We need a state government that is committed to fully funding education. An investment made today will pay off exponentially tomorrow.

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