Finally some good news from St. Paul
Public education has been getting shortchanged in Minnesota for years. That’s why it is heartening to see the state not only direct more dollars to education, but also attempt to address inequities built into the current funding process.
It’s well known that the state’s share of funding schools has failed to keep pace with inflation for the past eight years, shifting more of the burden onto local property taxes. Property taxes for schools have soared from $984 million in 2002 to $2.3 billion this year. During the same time period, state aid increased from $6.1 billion to $7.3 billion.
But just throwing more money at public education isn’t the solution. The dollars need to go where they will have the biggest impact on students, and the state needs to reform how it calculates aid for districts to ensure that all Minnesotans receive a quality education no matter where they live in the state.
The House and Senate take those factors into consideration in their individual education proposals.
For instance, both bills invest in early learning by providing free, all-day kindergarten for children. Studies show focusing resources in the early years is one of the most effective ways of narrowing the achievement gap between poor students and their peers. In the same vein, both bills include money for early-childhood scholarships for low-income families.
Another key component both bills share in common is tweaking the existing state aid formula to provide more equitable funding for public schools. The House accomplishes this by changing the formula to provide more revenue for poorer districts while the Senate approach creates a uniform, statewide general education levy. As part of the package, the Senate also includes a provision for $150 million in property tax relief.
Under the Senate plan, the effect is to distribute state aid where it is needed most while protecting property owners from paying additional taxes.
Both the House and Senate approaches attempt to eliminate the patchwork of school funding that has emerged since the elimination of the statewide education levy in 2003. Numerous districts have been forced to go to voters for local levies and that has created wide disparities between the haves and have-nots. Northern Minnesota districts simply lack the same tax base that their metro counterparts have and are unable to generate the same tax dollars through operating levies.
Providing more dollars for education and creating a more equitable system for funding public schools benefits the entire state. It’s a long overdue investment in our future and will help guarantee Minnesota remains a leader in education instead of falling further behind.