Now what for school funding?


Congratulations to the more than 60 districts (out of the 99 making requests) that passed all or part of a requested property tax increase. Now what? Three things come to mind.

First, give the parents, educators and students involved in the campaigns credit. Convincing people to raise their taxes is tough. As a growing percentage of people do not have children in schools, it becomes even tougher. Voting on a property tax increase to help fund schools also is one of the few times that people get a chance to say “yes” or “no to taxes.

As a state task force develops recommendations about improving school funding, I hope they consider two ideas about which I’ll say more in coming weeks.

First, we should put more into rewarding districts that make progress with students – in terms of increasing achievement, graduation, reducing percentage of graduates who take remedial courses, etc.

Second, how about a fund to help replicate the best district and charter public schools in the state and country? We should be doing a better job of applying approaches that are making a big difference with students

Minnesota has been justifiably proud of a system that provides relatively equal funding to all students. Minnesota ranks in the top 10% of states in terms of insuring that as much money is spent on students from low – moderate income families as on the most affluent students. This helped Minnesota public schools rank among the nation’s best.

There’s another reason – actually more than 25,000 reasons that we should be reducing reliance on local property taxes. Those are the more than 25,000 students attending Minnesota charter public schools. The charters received almost nothing from local property taxes. So in communities which have approved property taxes to support ongoing school operations, district schools receive hundreds, and in a few cases, more than $1000 more per pupil than charter public schools.

Reducing inequities among districts and between districts and charters are two good reasons to support a higher level of state funding for public education. So what’s the best way for the state to fund public schools?

Seems simple, right? But districts often argue they have a special case. Rural, sparsely populated districts convinced legislators that they need more money because they have unusually high transportation costs. Some suburbs are asking for more money because housing costs are higher in their communities. Urban and suburban districts have asked for and received higher funding levels because they have a significant concentration of low income, limited English speaking students. So exceptions have become the rule, when it comes to state funding.

Hundreds of millions of dollars also go to special programs that do not benefit all students. This includes students with special needs, gifted students, career-technical programs, desegregation, etc. etc

Under the current system, local referendums increase inequities. We need a system that reduces them, which rewarding progress and helping communities learn from what’s working best.

Joe Nathan directs the Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs