After a year and a half of work, the state’s School Finance Task Force finalized recommendations on a broad range of education finance reform measures. Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius will take the recommendations to Governor Dayton who is in the process of developing his budget recommendations for 2014-15 for the incoming legislature to review.
Several previous attempts have been made to restructure the state’s complicated education finance system, but those efforts fell short for a number of reasons, including costing too much and lacking political support from either the House, Senate or Governor’s office. The current report offers a modest adjustment to the state’s complicated finance system that can be phased in over several years. The total dollars in play in the phase-in equate to a 1-3% increase in total funds depending on how aggressive the phase in would be.
The recommendations include changes to many existing education formulas, but rare is there a recommendation to eliminate something. More so, the change can be described as updates and simplifications to existing formulas, including flattening grades 1-6 pupil weights at 1.0 and 7-12 at 1.2. The task force didn’t recommend funding all day, every day kindergarten for all, but instead would target all day K funds at kids at or below the federal poverty guideline. Extended time is recommended to be rolled into compensatory aid. This has caused consternation among ALC administrators and we can assume there will be a legislative fight over this piece of the puzzle.
The recommendations include a proposal that would create a new general education levy by combining several existing ANTC levies with a portion of RMV levies. The new general education levy would allow districts to roll-in $300 per pupil. Greater Minnesota districts with more than 2,000 students could roll-in an additional $200 per pupil and metro districts could roll-in an additional $400 per pupil in recognition of location costs that apparently exist for larger districts. The current referendum cap would be reduced by $400 per pupil. A late motion to the report was overwhelmingly adopted (89% support) to make the new general education levy mandatory and provide a dollar-for-dollar penalty to districts that don’t implement it.
Kudos are due to MDE Program Finance Director Tom Melcher. He spent countless hours massaging the task force recommendations to make sure the proposal provides more equity across the system and limits the property tax impact to those low referendum districts who would otherwise be challenged to use the new general education levy.
To read the details of the task force report and to find a spreadsheet with the data runs comparing current law to the proposed changes, click here.