Our schools’ legislative priorities
Center for School Change
Some surprising, as well as continuing themes, came through when I asked school leaders around the state for a brief summary of their legislative priorities. Here’s what I heard from several of them, beginning with Caledonia principals:
Paul Demorett, Caledonia’s secondary school principal, wrote, “From my point of view, which is K-12 education, the top priority of the legislative session is funding. The state needs to figure out a way to help K-12 education with the funding shortfalls that exist.”
Jane Morken, the interim principal at Caledonia’s elementary school responded: “School allocations do not include full day funding for kindergarten. All-day every-day kindergarten is very beneficial for the success of children. There are known long term effects for quality early education. “
Elk River Superintendent Mark Bezek told me something I had not known about the state’s funding formula. His top priority is “Equity revenue for our Hennepin and Anoka County students; seven-county metro students are funded at a higher level. If my office was located in Hennepin or Anoka counties we would be included. (Up to $400K)”
Bezek pointed out that while the district has students from both counties, because his office was not located in the seven county metro area in 1999, the district receives several hundred thousand dollars less.
I talked with a Minnesota Senate Education Committee administrator who confirmed this detail of Minnesota’s funding formula.
Bezek also hopes that the legislature will provide some designated funding for new approaches with technology. He believes that this could end up saving taxpayers millions of dollars.
Cambridge Superintendent Bruce Novak wrote, “For me the top priority is the correcting the shift and getting back to the 90/10. It is very difficult for school districts to operate on 60 percent of the revenues during the current fiscal year without borrowing money to meet the everyday operational expenses.”
In order to balance the state budget, the 2011 legislature moved to a plan where they provide 60 percent of the expended revenue over a year’s period, and withhold 40 percent. A few years ago, that formula was, as Superintendent Novak points out, 90/10. This shift has challenged many districts.
Vern Capelle, dean of students at Upsala High School responded, “K-12 funding would have to the most important issue for us. The current funding formula is based heavily on enrollment projections and, I believe, is insufficient. Being from a small rural school district, our student population may fluctuate quite a bit in a few years and this translates into funding that also fluctuates. Even though we have a small student population, we are still required to implement the same initiatives as larger districts.”
My deepest hope is that the legislature will reduce dependence on local property taxes. Nations around the world with the highest average achievement don’t make funding dependent on which community a youngster lives in.
Joe Nathan, a former public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change at Macalester College. He welcomes reactions, firstname.lastname@example.org