Schools’ Future Shaped by Decisions of Today

Julie Pritchard, Guest Columnist, Northfield News, April 20, 2015

With a $1.9 billion state budget surplus, there was great optimism statewide that our legislators would finally have the resources to invest in the future growth and prosperity of Minnesota by adequately funding K12 public education this session.

Despite this sizable surplus, the House, Senate and Governor’s current proposed spending on K-12 Education in the next biennium budget is of great concern to school districts statewide. The House is proposing $157 million, the Senate $350 million and the governor $695 million for preschool through 12th grade education. What is most alarming is that none of their proposals would address our school districts’ most immediate and critical needs.

School districts receive over 70 percent of their total revenue from the state in the form of the General Fund Basic Formula. This money is used to pay for teachers, transportation, classroom materials and other basic operating expenses and is calculated on a per-pupil basis.

Over the past two decades, the increases to this formula have not even kept pace with inflation. In fact, the General Fund Basic Formula per pupil amount would have to be increased by almost $2,400 per pupil to have the same purchasing power it had back in 1991-92. Over the past 10 years in Northfield, we have had to make up for the state’s lack of funding on the formula by passing two operating levies paid almost totally by our local property taxpayers. These levies were needed in order to just maintain the reduced staff and programs that were left after two rounds of budget cuts.

To meet the most basic needs of Minnesota’s public schools, the legislature must provide a 3 percent increase on the General Fund Basic Formula in each year of the biennium budget. Currently the House, Senate and Governor’s proposals call for a 1 percent increase or less. These proposed increases are significantly below the current rate of inflation and will result in the Northfield Schools and districts all across the state being forced to make harsh budget cuts beginning in the 2016-17 school year. For Northfield, this would mean budget reductions of $1.3 million in 2016-17 and $4.1 million in 2017-18. These cuts will significantly impact current program offerings and class sizes across the district.

The future of Northfield Schools will be shaped by the decisions made by our lawmakers in the next five weeks. As a community that cares deeply about our schools, I urge you to contact our legislators and ask them to provide at least a 3 percent increase on the General Fund Basic Formula each year. With a significant State budget surplus, this is an opportunity to re-invest in the future of our state and provide the quality education every Minnesota child deserves.

As concerned constituents we can be a powerful voice.

Julie Pritchard is the chair of the Northfield School Board.