“Everyone should have the same right of access to educational opportunities throughout the state regardless of zip code; it just wasn’t fair that some of the districts were coming up short, particularly in rural Minnesota,” Senator Wiger said....
When it comes to education funding, no two schools are alike, and that has become very evident for Wade McKittrick, who serves as the superintendent for the Wabasso School District, as well as for Milroy public schools.
While the basic per pupil funding formula is essentially the same from one district to another, the real funding issue is in how a student is weighted.
Simply put, funding comes to districts based on the student, as the current system pays more for a high school student than it does a kindergartner.
That is going to change, though, for 2014 when the amount paid for a Kindergarten student increases as the state approved paying for all-day, every- day kindergarten.
At the same time, though, it has also changed the weighting for a high school student, which means schools are going to be getting less money for each of those students.
In a lot of ways, then, the funding coming into districts is really a wash when the funding formula increases.
Top lawmakers said their focus on early learning was the key to improving a growing achievement gap and education as a whole.
Requirements for the state-funded, all-day kindergarten option, under the new law, is that the program has to be free, has to include at least 850 hours of instruction during the school year and has to be available to all families who wish to enroll their children. Democrats have stressed individual districts can choose not to offer all-day kindergarten. Those opting out won’t get the state funds dedicated to that programming.
Keeping up the pace
As part of the two-year education-funding bill, school districts will receive 1.5 percent increases each year to the state’s per pupil funding formula.
The annual 1.5 percent increase is comparable to a cost of living increase, Tom Melcher, director of the school finance division for the Minnesota Department of Education, said. For the first year there is going to be 1.5 percent more money for each student enrolled in the district. The second year there is going to be an additional 1.5 percent increase.
“There are some districts who have been making budget cuts because they have increases in their expenses from year to year,” he said. “What this would do is provide that extra 1.5 percent of revenue per year that would hopefully prevent some districts from needing to make additional budget cuts. It’s keeping up with inflation.”
The bill will also pay back $874 million owed to schools from previous budget deals. That pay back relies on a temporary income tax surcharge on top earners.
Minnesota’s tax revenues for the budget year that ended June 30 came in $463 million ahead of forecast. Seventy percent of the extra revenue came from higher-than-expected individual income tax payments, according to a quarterly review issues in July by the Minnesota Management and Budget. Some of that money was attributed to stronger-than-expected economic growth, but department officials believe much of it came from wealthy taxpayers shifting income from future years into 2012 to beat anticipated hikes in income and capital gains taxes, yielding a one-time gain.
Like for like levies
While paying back the schools the money they were owed is going to help, Sen. Wiger added a key issue tackled in the legislative session was the issue of school levy inequities. Legislators made strides to help districts at the bottom end of the referendum game.
Legislation was passed to get districts operating without a levy referendum the ability to increase revenue to $300 per pupil. This is accomplished through school board levy authority. Similar to local city, county and state governments setting their levy amounts without voter approval, legislators have given school boards in districts without a voter-passed referendum, the discretionary authority to raise additional revenues up to $300 per student.
“There are about 10 percent of school districts in the state who are unable to pass a voter-approved operating referendum,” Melcher noted. “For those districts, this law allows school boards to pass a resolution that would allow them to raise $300 per pupil of revenue as if they had gone to the voters and passed a $300 per pupil referendum”
Wiger said there were a number of provisions in the tax bill, but the $300 per pupil unit was with rural districts in mind.
“Everyone should have the same right of access to educational opportunities throughout the state regardless of zip code,” Wiger said. “It just wasn’t fair that some of the districts were coming up short, particularly in rural Minnesota.”