Education Revenue & Innovation to Support Strong Public Schools
While the 2022 legislative session is not a full budget setting session, the MREA board is seeking your approval of a platform that lays the groundwork for significant new state funding that will maintain a strong system of public schools. In addition to funding, we’re asking for real statutory flexibility for local innovation of educational service delivery.
During the 2022 non-budget session, we are asking the state to reimburse schools for the loss of Basic Skills Revenue (Compensatory Aid). The USDA free meal waivers have been great for students and families, but they have caused a disruption in schools’ ability to generate these funds. The state will see a budget surplus in December, due in part to the state not reimbursing schools as much for low-income students. The state should further take advantage of opportunities for more direct certification of students that qualify for “Free/Reduced price lunch” status. The state should also study possible ways of changing the FRE proxy for schools to generate Basic Skills Revenue, perhaps through census-based factors.
Longer Term Vision
Even before the pandemic, schools routinely struggled to attract and retain staff. State aid for public education funding has not kept up with inflation leading school districts to rely on voter approved property taxpayer support, creating major disparities in educational funding and student opportunities across the state. The 5th to 95th funding gap is rapidly growing and on pace to reach historical levels of inequity if nothing changes. To prepare students with the skills necessary for participation in the economy, our democracy and society, schools need the economic purchasing power to compete in an ever-tightening labor market.
MREA is calling on state officials to significantly increase and stabilize funding for Minnesota’s public schools through specific actions, including:
- Continuing to freeze special education cross-subsidies for each school district (work that began with the 2019 omnibus E-12 bill).
- Expand Voluntary PreK funding to all school districts with qualifying students (move away from unstable School Readiness Plus funding).
- Increase Local Optional Revenue and allow it to grow by inflation and ease the levy burden with significant equalization.
- As part of the state’s budget process, include ‘forecasted’ CPI inflation on the general education formula.
The state needs to better recognize the role our smallest schools and our rural educational cooperatives play in supporting teaching and learning. Specifically, when creating revenue for categorical purposes, such as English Learner funding or Safe Schools funding, the state should establish minimum revenue guarantees and ensure rural cooperative educational systems are included in revenue streams targeted at the students they serve.
To support the professional growth of our teachers, the state should provide funding for teacher development, mentoring and credentialling programs.
Support Education Innovation at the local level
To support innovation in educational services, we’re asking the legislature to remove state agency barriers that restrict “Innovation Zone” development. We continue to oppose unfunded state mandates and “one-size-fits-all” approaches to state education policy, specifically changes to graduation requirements that restrict flexibility in the High School schedule. Until the state provides the revenue programs we’re asking for, local school boards should be able to renew expiring operating levies previously approved through voter referenda. We support allowing school boards to replace a school board vacancy without a general election when less than two years exists in the vacated term.
In addition to general education support, there are significant funding gaps when it comes to deferred maintenance support for schools. The largest school districts in the state qualify for “Alternative Facilities” levy authority, which is uncapped, whereas the rest of the school districts operate with the capped Long Term Facility Maintenance Revenue (LTFMR) program.
The cap on LTFMR should be lifted to create equity among all of Minnesota’s school districts. Furthermore, greater MN districts should have the same ability to levy for cooperative facility needs as the metro districts have for their Intermediate Districts. The state should incentive cooperative and consolidation when it’s needed by creating an “Enhanced Debt Service Equalization” funding program, mirroring what is available for rebuilding schools after a natural disaster.