Opinion: It is time to get serious about funding education

Sun Sailor

Allison Fetrow and Dean Eyler, Sun Sailor, April 21, 2015 at 3:30 pm

With all the media coverage of the state’s budget surplus, you may be surprised to learn that the most recent education “targets” (the amount of money legislators intend to spend on education) released by the House and Senate fall far short of what Wayzata needs to simply maintain current programming and staff.

A 3 percent increase in the per-pupil formula would allow most districts, including Wayzata, to keep up with inflation with no new programs or improvements.

With the less than inflationary 1 percent general education formula increase currently being proposed, Wayzata Public Schools will be faced with a $3.2 million shortfall in the 2015-16 school year and approximately an additional $3 million for 2016-17.

No specific decisions have been finalized regarding budget cuts in the district, but to illustrate the impact of only a 1 percent increase, consider the following: a $3.2 million shortfall is equivalent to the cost of approximately 50 full-time teachers.

Thanks go to state policymakers for making strides during the last biennium to stabilize our education funding system and invest in early learning and all-day kindergarten.

At the same time, they adopted ambitious expectations for our public schools under the World’s Best Workforce legislation: making sure all children are ready for kindergarten, all third-graders are reading at grade level, closing all racial and economic achievement gaps, graduating all students from high school and making sure all students are ready for college and career.

Developing the World’s Best Workforce will require a sustained commitment to providing adequate resources for our schools. Too often over the past few decades, one good funding session is followed by several years of failing to keep pace with inflation.

One need look no further than the history of funding increases for the state general education formula since 2003. The general education formula is the primary funding stream that provides funding for the day-to-day operations of our public schools.

Since 2003, the annual percentage increases in the formula have been 0, 0, 4, 4, 2, 1, 0, 0, 1, 1, 1.5 and 2 percent. If the formula had simply kept pace with inflation since 2003, it would be $1,300 per pupil higher today.

Not only have the formula increases not kept pace with inflation, new programs and mandates have driven expectations and costs upward.

After the last biennium, there seemed to be room for optimism. That optimism grew heading into the 2015 legislative session with word of a $2 billion state budget surplus and virtually every legislator campaigning on a commitment to adequately fund our public schools.

Instead, as we approach the final weeks of the 2015 legislative session, the funding levels proposed by the House and Senate fall far short of what is needed to adequately fund our public schools. We are headed toward yet another year where the state provides less than an inflationary increase needed just to maintain existing programming for our schools. It’s time to get serious about funding education.

Allison Fetrow, of Medina, and Dean Eyler, of Plymouth, are citizen co-chairs of the Wayzata Public Schools’ Legislative Action Committee.

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