MREA early this legislative session informally shared with legislators the concept of a Basic Educational Guarantee (BEG) that would provide every district the same foundational aid.

Sen. Nelson, the new Senate E-12 Finance Chair, was interested in the concept and asked, “How can that be used also to provide an incentive for student achievement?” Foundation And Incentive Revenue (FAIR) was the result, and SF 1885 is expected to be presented in committee later this week.

View issue brief on FAIR.

FAIR is part of the strategies identified in the 2017 Rural Kids Count Report. Learn more about the report.

Addressing Old Problems

The bill aims to address two old problems in the state’s E-12 school system:

  • Problem 1: Not providing stable, foundational revenue for rural school districts irrespective of variations in enrollment in Minnesota. Per pupil funding produces too much variability when districts have fewer than 750 students and cannot make matching staff reductions.  There are built-in inefficiencies that are necessary, smaller, rural school districts.
  • Problem 2: Improving student achievement of all students when it is “good enough” to avoid consequences, but is not truly maximizing student growth and achievement.

How It Works

Every school district starts with $200,000, which is multiplied by the ratio of the district’s three-year rolling average of 8th grade MCA reading and math scores divided by the state’s three-year average. The result is a median revenue of $184,000 per district, and a median of $190 per ADM.  View map of the impact.

The three-year average provides a balance between stability due to student differences in smaller classes and the ability of schools to affect student achievement positively. View map on impact.

FAIR is not linked to any other formulas nor does it affect any other formulas. Districts receive all current revenue such as Small School Revenue and linked formula increases approved by the legislature.

The Cost

FAIR supports smaller schools and the economic stability they afford local communities. FAIR costs about $60 million per year, but only a dozen rural districts receive less than $60 per pupil, or 1 percent on per pupil funding. All other 150+ rural districts receive more up to a maximum of $1,000 per APU.

Student Achievement Incentive

A legitimate question is whether schools can affect student achievement.

  • Are there practices that create more effective, efficient curriculum, effective instructional practices, use of data, and the creation of an achievement culture?
  • Or does the power of poverty, lack of English language proficiency, and other barriers overwhelm the efforts of educators?

The overall pattern of schools in wealthier communities having higher average MCA scores than communities with higher percentages of students on Free and Reduced Lunch having lower MCA scores is stronger among Minnesota’s metro school districts than rural districts, as shown in table below.

8th Grade MCA Scores & Free and Reduced Lunch (FRE) Percentages
  Metro School Districts Percent Metro Districts Rural School Districts Percent Rural Districts State Total State Percentages
Significantly above expected results 0 0% 6 2% 6 2%
Above expected results 6 10% 63 23% 69 21%
Matching expected results 50 85% 141 52% 191 58%
Below expected results 1 2% 54 20% 55 17%
Significantly below expected results 2 3% 9 3% 11 3%
Total 59 100% 273 100% 332 100%

A MREA analysis shows a clear relationship between wealth and achievement when state’s districts are split in thirds by FRE percentages and MCA 8th grade proficiency. The lowest FRE schools align with the highest MCA scores while the highest third of FRE schools have the lowest MCA scores. Schools that are in the middle for FRE tend to be in the middle of MCA scores.

Yet six rural districts in the third with the highest FRE percentages achieved the highest 8th grade MCA proficiency. Another 63 rural districts’ MCA scores are in the next highest third than expected given their FRE percentage. These districts comprise 25 percent of all rural districts.

It is possible to beat the odds in rural Minnesota. It is also more possible for the opposite result to occur in rural Minnesota districts with 20 percent not achieving their matching third.

View map comparison of FRE percentages and rolling three-year average of 8th grade achievement.

View map of 2015-16 FRE percentages.

View map of rolling three-year average 8th grade achievement compared to state average.

Getting Results

Two keys to getting results are aligning instruction with standards and to make effective use of data for instructional decision making.  “The use of test scores at the local level varies widely; many principals and teachers do not feel prepared to interpret much of the testing data reported by MDE,” was a conclusion of The Minnesota Office of Legislative Auditor’s (OLA) report released last week on standardized testing.

To assist districts with data driven instructional decisions, MREA is supporting legislation linking the Center for Applied Research in Educational Innovation (CAREI) and the Service Cooperatives to offer training and support for rural school districts to effectively use data to improve instruction and achievement. HF1492/SF1180 (Poston/Anderson P).