Declining State Support for Schools

Proposed legislation would prohibit local school boards from asking voters to support local school levies in even numbered years despite documentation showing declining state support for our schools.

These slides from a Tom Melcher presentation to the 2011 Commissioner’s Education Finance Working Group last March show how state support for Minnesota schools has declined since 2003.

This slide shows how it’s important to know whether or not someone is using numbers adjusted for inflation. Without adjusting for inflation, schools show a 15% increase from 2003 to 2011, when adjusted using the CPI there’s a 5% decrease, and when adjusted using the IPD there’s a 15% decrease.

Jeff Van Wychen offered one of the best explanations of the difference between the CPI and the IPD back when he was writing for Minnesota 2020 (paraphrased):

“Whether it’s a family or a Fortune 500 company, we all recognize that inflation drives costs up. Government is no different …the “market basket of goods” purchased by state and local governments is driven largely by labor costs and is significantly different from the purchases of the typical household. That’s where the IPD comes in. The IPD measures inflation for the types of goods purchased by state and local governments just as the CPI measures inflation for the types of goods purchased by the typical household.

“It makes no sense to apply an inflation measure designed for ordinary consumer purchases (i.e., CPI) to state and local governments, just as it makes no sense to apply an inflation measure designed for state and local governments (i.e., the IPD) to the typical household. To apply an inflation index such as the CPI to a set of purchases for which it was not designed will only produce nonsensical and meaningless outcomes.”
Taking the Spin out of Inflation Estimates, Minnesota 2020, September 9, 2008

That’s why the state requires school districts to use the IPD for state and local government purchases under the Supplemental Truth and Taxation Law (enacted in 2005).

These differences are even more striking when you factor in local property taxes.

This slide shows how school districts have become increasingly reliant on local property taxes to fund operations. When local levies are included, school revenue has increased by 27% without adjusting for inflation. When adjusted using the CPI they have increased by less than 2%, but when using the appropriate inflation index, the IPD, school funding has declined by 5%.

“If we use the appropriate measure of inflation, it is clear that state aid to Minnesota school districts has fallen significantly since the 2003 state takeover of general education, causing both a growth in school property taxes and a decline in school revenue.” —Parents United for Public Schools, Fall 2006

Three weeks before the November 2006 elections, the Coalition of Minnesota Businesses sent a letter to all candidates for state offices asserting that our schools have received 24% increases in funding over inflation since 1996 (they were wrong).  Today, just a week before the 2011 election we have Representatives Garofalo, Anderson and Drazkowski taking the stage with Phil Krinkie, president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota proposing yet more state control of local decision-making by limiting levy elections to even-numbered years. (See what Mr. Krinkie has to say about his vision for our schools.)

“To put schools on more stable financial ground, state policymakers need to develop a more reliable funding formula for schools — one more protected from the ups and downs of the state’s economy.”
The pass-along pain from school cuts, Star Tribune Editorial, September 12, 2011


Not only are revenues declining, they’re not declining equally

This slide shows how, without local levies taking into account, Minneapolis, Saint Paul and rural school districts have seen significantly greater declines than inner ring suburbs…


…but when you factor in local levies, the picture changes.


A question of context

Isn’t what’s happening in Minnesota a reflection of the recession and what’s happening across the nation?  No.
Minnesota ranks 9th in the nation for cuts to school funding while 16 states increased funding for schools, New School Year Brings Steep Cuts in State Funding for Schools, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, October 7, 2011.


Legislative Response

Sen. Wiger: GOP school levy plan “an unbelievable ruse” – This announcement by Rep. Garofalo is an unbelievable ruse to cover for the mess the GOP majorities created for our schools this past year.  Changing when school districts can hold levy elections will not cover up for the fact that state funding—when adjusted for inflation—has decreased 13 percent since 2003 nor that the state spends 7.8 percent less per student now than it did just three years ago. The U.S. Department of Education reports that since 1970, Minnesota has sunk from 5th to 22nd in student spending.  This proposal does absolutely nothing to help our students succeed or to close Minnesota’s persistent achievement gap, Minnesota State Senate News Release, November 2, 2011.

Letter from Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers in response to Representative Garofalo’s September attack on local school levies – The House Republican Caucus will continue to push for additional mandate relief and import ant reforms we need in order to ensure our students are college and career ready. With the changes in our economy happening so rapidly, it is important that our students have the skills necessary to compete in a global economy. In addition, the House Republican Caucus will continue to push for greater local control with accountability for results. The Caucus doe s not take any formal position on local referendums, and will continue to support the rights of local citizens to make these important decisions, Minnesota House of Representatives, September 22, 2011.

Media coverage

Keep off-year levy elections in place – During this severe economic downturn, funding education is crucial for having an equitable and  effective K-12 education system. Now is not the time to prevent local school districts from having off-year operating levy elections when the quality of the students education is at stake, Forest Lake Times, November 16, 2011.

Despite tough times, Minnesota voters help schools – Despite a stagnant economy and low consumer confidence, Minnesota voters supported nearly 80 percent of school levies on Tuesday’s ballots, the highest approval rating in more than a decade, Pioneer Press, November 10, 2011.

“The results show voters understand that public schools have been essentially starved of funding because state aid has not kept up with inflation over the past decade. People know their schools are hurting and they stepped up. I think what they are saying to the Legislature is, ‘We did your job this time.’”
—Mary Cecconi, Executive Director of Parents United for Public Schools

Levy voters send message to the Legislature – This morning when Mary Cecconi, executive director of the grassroots education advocacy group Parents United and Minnesota’s unofficial school-finance historian, saw the results of yesterday’s school referenda elections she did a little happy dance. According to the online results cheat-sheet maintained by the Minnesota School Boards Association, voters yesterday approved 80 percent of the requests for operating levies on ballots in 114 communities. …In recent weeks, Republican lawmakers have taken the unprecedented step of lobbying voters to reject levy requests, arguing that schools got hefty “windfall” funding increases during the recent legislative session and had no business asking people to tax themselves further, MinnPost, November 9, 2011.

“Odd-year elections have more transparency. People realized that with the state lagging in funding for eight of the past 10 years, local communities had to step up. They made a local decision to put the education of kids before politics.” (paraphrased)
—Greg Abbott, Minnesota School Boards Association

School levies prove unfortunate but essential – Political scientists argue that all politics is local. So, what does it mean when 90 percent of Minnesota’s 340 local school districts have had to pass levy referenda? Or when a full one-third of school districts are going to voters this year alone, asking residents to help them prevent teacher layoffs and pay for basic classroom functions? It surely doesn’t mean these are isolated districts facing a temporary shortfall. Rather, it suggests a systemic lack of education leadership in St. Paul. It means our state is shirking our constitutional responsibility to provide a quality education for all Minnesota students, State Representative Mindy Greiling, Grand Forks Herald, November 6, 2011.

Tuesday is do-or-die time for area school levies – The chairman of the House Education Finance Committee last week made a proposal that — if in place now — would not have school districts conducting referendums this year. The plan from Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, would require school tax votes to be conducted the same year as elections of governor or president, St. Cloud Times, November 5, 2011.

St. Cloud board member Jerry Von Korff has been involved as a volunteer and as a board member in many attempts to pass tax increases in the past two decades. St. Cloud has a tax approved in 2008 that expires in 2014. The district is considering asking for renewal early. If the Garofalo bill becomes law, 2013 would not be an option. Von Korff said Garofalo should concentrate on helping solve the school funding situation.

“He is treating this like this is the Soviet Union coming in and attacking our school districts. The people that run these school districts care about education, They are doing a public service. (Instead of saying) ‘Let’s see how hard we can make it for them,’ what about making it easier for them so school districts can have balanced budgets?”
—Jerry Von Korff, St. Cloud Board of Education

Should school levy questions be restricted to even-numbered years? – With more than 100 school districts turning to the voters for either an extension on a current levy or for additional funding on top of their current amount, a Minnesota lawmaker has authored a bill that would restrict votes on school levies to even-numbered years. Republican Rep. Patrick Garofalo’s bill comes less than a week before about one-third of Minnesota school districts go to their voters for more money Tuesday. It would put levies on the ballot during election years when races for state and federal offices are on the ballot, meaning voter turnout would arguably be higher. Garofalo, the chairman of the Minnesota House Education Finance Committee, argues that school levy votes deserve the attention of more voters. He says some school districts are trying to exploit the low turnouts of odd-year elections, Marshall Independent, November 4, 2011.

Garofalo looks to scrap odd-year school referendum voting – The first bill House K-12 Finance Chairman Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, will take up in January deals with school referendums. Garofalo wants to change the law so that voting on all school referendums would take place in even-year, general elections rather than odd-year elections. “That’s not good for democracy,” Garofalo said of the low number of voters who often turn out to vote on referendums under the current system. Even-year elections would provide more school funding transparency, because more voters will be paying attention, Garofalo said. School districts favor odd-year referendums, because the odds of passage go up, he said, Princeton Union-Eagle, November 3, 2011.

“Today’s announcement has nothing to do with increasing participation. The only transparency I saw today was the crystal clear attempt to defeat local levies.”
—State Representative Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, Democratic lead on the House K-12 Finance Committee

Key Minn. GOP lawmaker wants to limit school districts’ levy votes – State Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, says schools should only hold levy votes in even-numbered years, when turnout is already higher for other elections. He plans to push for such a requirement in law when lawmakers reconvene in January. Garofalo, who chairs the House Education Finance Committee, says the levy bill will be the first his committee will discuss…. Garofalo was joined at a Capitol news conference Wednesday by fellow Republican lawmakers Rep. Sarah Anderson of Plymouth and Rep. Steve Drazkowski of Mazeppa. Also appearing was former legislator Phil Krinkie, who is now president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, Minnesota Public Radio, November 2, 2011.

Minnesota Republican calls for school levies in even years only – The lead House Republican on education said today he will propose legislation that would require school districts to hold levy referendums only in even years. Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said too many districts are asking voters to renew or increase levies in odd-year elections because voter turnout is low and they have a better chance of passing their ballot measures. “I don’t think having a small group of people dictating policy is a good thing,” said Garofalo, chairman of the House Education Finance Committee, Pioneer Press, November 2, 2011 .

Controversy greets Garofalo plan to limit levy votes to general-election years – Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, proposed legislation this morning that will inspire passionate debate across the state. Garofalo, chairman of the House Education Finance Committee, believes that school districts should be limited to holding referendums only in general election years. The legislation is being proposed in the name of “transparency,’’ Garofalo said, MinnPost, November 2, 2011.

School levy limit opposed – A week before about a third of Minnesota school districts will be asking voters for more money, a Republican lawmaker is calling for restrictions on when school levies may be held…. Brainerd Superintendent Steve Razidlo said the Brainerd school levy election is necessary in an off-year because the district’s existing $199.24 per pupil evy will otherwise expire. In addition to the levy renewal request, the district is asking for an additional $200 per pupil levy on Tuesday’s ballot. Razidlo said he and his staff have offered to meet with Garofalo to discuss school funding issues and so far his office has refused the offer, Brainerd Dispatch, November 2, 2011.

Bill seeks to limit school levy votes – More than 100 Minnesota school districts will ask voters to approve paying $900 million more in property taxes next week in an election some Republican lawmakers say was scheduled to favor passage….     Garofalo said the schools are seeking added revenue even though the governor and lawmakers this year increased school spending $650 million. Many planned next week’s election before the Legislature approved its budget, he added, Fargo-Moorhead InForum, November 2, 2011.

Lawmaker proposes change to school levy voting – Minnesota House Education Finance Committee Chair Pat Garofalo Wednesday proposed requiring school money questions to become even year votes, Star Tribune, November 2, 2011.

More media responses to Representative Garofalo’s September attack on local school levies.

What you can do

#1 Vote Yes to support your local levy to protect your children and your schools. The biggest reason why you should support your local school levy is to protect your local district—and the children in your schools—from the further damage legislators like Representative Garofalo can do in the next biennium.

#2 Contact Representative Garofalo, cc’ing your local legislators, and tell him:

  1. The state has a constitutional obligation to secure a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state.
  2. As chair of the House Education Committee he has a direct obligation to represent the interests of children in public schools across the state, not just those in his suburban district.
  3. It’s time to fix the formula. The children in our schools today cannot go back and get another education. Childhood has no rewind.
    The 2004 Education Finance Reform Task Force called for sufficient, stable funding rationally rationally linked to learning (the cost of delivering the standards plus whatever else the state determined qualified as a basic education (e.g., music, second language, athletics, etc.) The 2011 Commissioner’s Education Finance Working Groupcalled for the state to establish a uniform general education levy (among other things.)Read the reports and tell Representative Garofalo and your local legislators it’s time to fix the formula!

From the Archives

AMSD Budget Survey – Estimated “Budget Gap” for FY2012, metro area schools, $ 187,319,863, Association of Metropolitan School Districts (Press Release), August 2010.

Jeff Van Wychen: State aid to Minnesota public schools has declined by $1,366 per pupil since FY 2003 in constant FY 2011 dollars – This decline in state aid corresponds with declining real school revenue and a sharp increase in school property taxes. Based on an updated analysis of data from Minnesota Management & Budget, Minnesota 2020, August 23, 2010.