By Vernae Hasbargen, MREA Lobbyist
In the Senate it’s called EAR (Education Advancement Revenue SF 576) and it could have a dramatic impact on the state’s lowest funded students in districts where citizens have refused to pass an operating levy.
Authored by the Senate’s new Tax Chair Rod Skoe of Clearbrook, EAR adds $300 to the formula for districts without a referendum and gives school boards the authority to do so.
Districts with up to $300 of operating levy can convert all of their levy with the state making up the difference to give each student $300 in ongoing revenue.
For districts with referenda above $300 per pupil, that amount will be converted to predictable permanent revenue if the school board agrees. In all three cases the levy will be equalized so property taxpayers will pay the same rate regardless of where they live.
EAR #1 priority
Skoe said initially he thought fixing the equalizing factors to keep up with inflation was the most important way to deal with school funding problems, but became convinced that helping districts without any operating levy should be his #1 priority.
Most of the more than 40 districts have gone to a four-day week, which Skoe opposes, and need the state’s help. Just moving to school board approval without the $300 roll-in would have frozen current inequities in place.
Why no referendum?
Often these districts are painted as deadbeat because their voters won’t raise taxes to help schools, but Skoe convincingly pointed out that it is the demographics of districts in the lakes area, that deprive students of the funding they need.
It is also the tax policy passed in 2001 that removed cabins (Seasonal/Recreational) from the tax base and puts their $40 million of property taxes into a statewide tax base that goes to Minnesota’s general fund instead.
MREA is working to reverse the law by giving these districts a bigger tax base to support their schools and hold down the cost to individual property tax payers.
A Clear Case
Superintendent Deb Wanek has been instrumental in testifying on this change because her Pelican Rapids district has struggled to pass a referenda because as she puts it, “the lowest 50% of incomes are left to pay for it” while permanent lakeshore residents don’t. Changing the law would treat a house as a house regardless of where it is located.
Skoe is authoring this change in the Senate and newly-elected Joe Radinovich of Crosby-Ironton in the House. At 26 and the youngest member, he points out the loss of opportunity in districts like the one he attended that have significantly less money to spend.
If both succeed, the funding gap will narrow considerably. See a map on the referendum market value by pupil, created by MREA.
Skoe wants a moratorium on new operating levies in the fall of 2013 to let a new equilibrium set in but renewals will be allowed for the 54 districts who currently have them. The first time an election to increase a levy will be allowed is November 2014.
Districts might find EAR’s $300 roll-in is well worth the wait.