The 2020 Minnesota Legislative Session was unlike any other as COVID-19 closed down traditional Capitol operations and lawmakers went remote. What didn’t change was MREA’s commitment to advocate for Greater Minnesota schools through it all.

“Our team worked hard this session to ensure state leaders understood how this pandemic impacted students across the state and what schools needed to serve their communities,” MREA Executive Director Fred Nolan said. “Our advocacy looked different this session, but it has never been more important.”

For 35 years, MREA has brought the voice of Greater Minnesota schools to the Capitol and advocated for what puts learners first. While the issues have changed and each session is different, equity has been a focal point.

See how MREA’s advocacy grown over the years in this video.

While the definition of equity has broadened over the years, MREA’s goal has stayed the same: to close funding gaps between metro and rural areas, so that all students are treated fairly, have the same opportunity, and receive the education every Minnesotan needs.

Here’s a look at the four key areas and some examples of legislative advances and outcomes for which MREA has consistently advocated over the past 35 years.

Equal opportunity for rural students.

  • Created financial incentives to combine districts (1990’s)
  • Broadened funding for geographical sparsity (1994)
  • Changed Compensatory formula so more students qualify and funding to districts was substantially increased (1997)
  • Received funding reciprocity with South Dakota (2008)
  • Secured Small Schools revenue (2011)
  • Secured American Indian aid (2015)

Equal access to high quality teachers.

  • Enabled teachers with a secondary license in one science discipline to licensures in additional science disciplines by passing the MTLE science discipline content tests (2004-06)
  • Gained concurrent enrollment teacher credentialing support (2016)
  • Secured funding to start para to teacher program (2016)
  • Provided additional teacher loan forgiveness (2017)
  • Stabilized TRA (2018)

Equal educational facilities.

  • Established equalization for debt service levy (1992)
  • Eliminated size requirement to qualify for debt service (1992)
  • Gained Co-op Secondary Facilities grants (1990’s)
  • Secured Long-Term Facility Maintenance to help address facility fallout of aging facilities (2015)
  • Developed Ag2school tax credit and increases (2017-2019)

Equal dollars for students and fairness for district taxpayers.

  • Established the 5th to 95th measure of Revenue Disparities gap every year and requires the commissioner to recommends how not to expand to close (1991)
  • Established equalization of excess levies (1991)
  • Established $724 in Board Authorized Equalized Levy Authority (2013-14) 
  • Closed “donut hole” in school funding with $724 in Local Operating Revenue (2014)

Putting Learners First

MREA’s founders envisioned an organization with all the players at the table focused on “putting learners first.” From the beginning, they shared a commitment described by Tracy Superintendent Harold Remme: “We must provide rural students with equality of educational opportunity similar to their metropolitan counterparts. Recent years have produced a widening disparity.”

Continuing to close funding gaps and ensure educational opportunities for all students, regardless of their zip code, remains a focus for MREA 35 years later.

“Rural students face lower family incomes, less property wealth in their districts, a declining commitment by the state to fund their basic education, geographic remoteness, fewer economies of scale, and a host of other unique challenges,” said Vernae Hasbargen, a long-time MREA leader. “That’s why MREA’s ongoing work is so essential for today’s and tomorrow’s learners.”

View more about MREA’s history.