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Guest Commentary

It’s Time to Deliver for Our Public Schools

The following guest post was written by John Vento, school board member from Robbinsdale Area Schools and chair of AMSD.

When the 2017 legislative session convened last January, there were high hopes that state policymakers would build on the investments and funding reforms that were adopted in the 2015 legislative session. With a projected $1.65 billion budget surplus, school board members, administrators, staff, parents, and students were optimistic state policymakers would provide at least an inflationary increase in the funding formula as well as make critical investments in special education and school-based early learning. In addition, there was wide agreement that it was important to address the funding deficiency in the Teachers Retirement Association without placing the financial burden local school districts.

The Governor proposed a $713 million investment in E-12 Education including a 2 percent per year formula increase, $40 million for special education, significant investments in school-based early learning and $68 million to fund a pension stabilization package. There seemed to be support among many legislators for the 2% per year formula increase proposed by the Governor. In addition, most legislators claimed they understood the need to cover any increase in the employer contribution to TRA as a part of a pension sustainability package.

Unfortunately, the spending target established for the House and Senate E-12 conference committee was inadequate to address these key issues. The conference committee report included only a 1.5% per year increase for the formula and did not include special education or pension relief funding. The Governor vetoed the E-12 bill and now, with just days to go in the session, it is time for legislators to deliver an E-12 bill that meets the needs of our schools and our students.

Legislators need to understand that a 2% per year formula increase is the bare minimum needed by our school districts. In fact, a recent budget survey of AMSD member school districts shows that under a 2 percent formula increase, most school districts will face budget shortfalls and staff layoffs. Consequently, it is important that legislators address other important issues. Consider the following:

  • The basic education funding formula would be $550 per pupil higher today if it had kept pace with inflation since 2003.
  • The growing special education cross-subsidy continues to strain school district budgets. The latest special education cross-subsidy report from the Minnesota Department of Education shows that school districts had to redirect nearly $600 million in general education revenue to cover mandated special education programming in FY 2015.
  • On average, each .5 percent increase in the employer contribution to TRA costs $29 per pupil for AMSD members. If funding is not provided to cover the employer increase, school districts will be forced to use a significant share of whatever formula increase is approved leaving fewer resources for programs for students. Legislators should use the pension adjustment mechanism that is part of the current education funding formula to cover the increased pension cost. The pension adjustment mechanism is the most cost effective method for the State as it reimburses school districts for their actual increased pension costs.

With just a few days remaining in the legislative session, there is still time to urge legislators and the Governor to reach agreement on an E-12 Education Finance Bill that meets the needs of our students by approving at least a 2 percent formula increase along with pension funding and special education cross-subsidy relief. Make your voices heard today!

Contact lists and summaries of E-12 education proposals are available on the AMSD 2017 Legislative Session page.