St. Paul voters are being asked to continue a current $30 million tax levy and support $9 million in new funding to support public schools.
Because the district has a strong track record for responsible spending -- and because student achievement is improving -- voters should say "yes" to the request.
District leaders are asking taxpayers to renew an existing levy and support a $175-per-pupil increase. About 75 percent of the money would be used for early learning programs, including classes for 4-year-olds, all-day kindergarten, and Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE). That's smart spending. Economists say that for every $1 spent on early education, at least $7 comes back to society.
The funds would also support programs for English-language learners, special education, and reading and math instruction. And the $9 million in new funds would go toward technology for individualized student instruction.
With funds from the successful 2006 referendum, the district made wise investments that yielded results. Test scores rose by 9 percentage points since 2007; graduation rates increased, and more pre-school kids are ready to learn. Enrollment has gone up, and figures released this week showed that St. Paul is Minnesota's largest school district, with about 39,000 students.
While many districts rely more heavily on referendum funds, St. Paul has been more conservative. The district receives one of the lowest per pupil levy amounts ($646) in the metro area; Minneapolis and Anoka-Hennepin receive twice that amount.
The requested $9 million tax increase would not place an excessive burden on property owners. Owners of a $149,000 house, the median value of a home in the district, would pay $63 per year. Officials have said that many taxpayers will likely see their overall property taxes drop in 2013 -- even if the school referendum passes.
Known for its fiscal restraint, the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce supports the referendum, saying that the district has "proven to be a strong leader in education reform and student achievement.''
Voters should approve the levy request to continue that progress.