Governor’s school aid increase viewed as helpful, but not enough

/ 21 February 2013 / eunice

Sarah Lemagie, Session Weekly, February 21, 2013 – School leaders are thanking the governor for his plans to increase education spending, but also say that schools need more.

The House Education Finance Committee heard variations on that theme from a string of school advocates who weighed in Thursday on the bill that would adopt Gov. Mark Dayton’s E-12 education budget. The governor is calling for $344 million in new school spending over the next two years, an increase of 2.3 percent.

The proposal includes $118 million in new money on the basic education funding formula. In fiscal year 2014, that would work out to an increase of $52 per student, or 1 percent, with the same level of funding maintained in the second year of the biennium.

But “1 percent is simply not enough,” said Grace Keliher, director of governmental relations for the Minnesota School Boards Association.

Northfield Superintendent Chris Richardson, who spoke on behalf of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, put it this way: “A 1 percent increase doesn’t even … address the inflationary increases that we’ll be seeing this year, nor does it have any impact on reducing (the) long-term funding deficit.”

Over the years, the state’s funding system for schools has become “increasingly inadequate,” Richardson said. As a result, school districts have regularly sought tax increases from local voters as an alternative to state aid, he said.

Many of the changes in the governor’s budget would take effect in the second year of the biennium, which means “that first year is looking tight,” said Scott Croonquist, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts. “We understand the situation that you’re in with the state budget, but we don’t want you to be under the impression that everything would be rosy under this level of funding for school districts,” he said. “There would be cuts the first year.”

School leaders also had plenty of praise for the governor’s budget. Croonquist said that his organization is particularly pleased with the proposed increase in funding for special education, as well as investments in all-day kindergarten and continued state aid for school integration.

Some testifiers said that, while they appreciate Dayton’s attention to specific funding needs such as kindergarten and teacher evaluation, the aid he proposes wouldn’t pay for everything.

“We liked the nods to certain issues,” said Brad Lundell, executive director of Schools for Equity in Education. However, “Resource levels make it difficult to do everything that needs to be done.”

The bill, HF630, sponsored by Rep. Paul Marquart(DFL-Dilworth), was laid over by the committee for possible inclusion in its omnibus bill. A Senate companion, SF453, is sponsored by Sen. Chuck Wiger (DFL-Maplewood). The Senate Finance Committee was slated to discuss the governor’s education bill on Thursday morning.