It was a good week for many local school districts — a healthy majority of those that asked voters for more funding got it. That residents are willing to dig a little deeper into their pocketbooks indicates strong community support for public schools.
Across Minnesota, 41 districts had bond or capital requests on Tuesday ballots, and 28 passed, according to the Minnesota School Boards Association. District leaders placed 53 operating levy measures before voters, and 44 of them were successful.
Twin Cities-area voters approved more than $1 billion in requests that will help fund operating costs including teachers and other staff, as well as construction, renovations and technology enhancements.
The wave of approvals included the state’s biggest bond request in two decades: a $249 million request from the Anoka-Hennepin School District. And districts including Roseville, Mounds View and Prior Lake passed bond measures of more than $100 million by wide margins.
Though a strong majority of the metro-area requests passed, the picture was somewhat different in greater Minnesota earlier this year. Of the 26 districts that sought operating funds between January and September, about half were successful.
Therein lies an ongoing issue with school district reliance on excess levy referendums to fund basic school operations. It continues to be unfair for schools to be the only unit of local government that repeatedly must go to voters to maintain or increase operating budgets. It’s inequitable because districts with less property tax wealth or those that can’t pass referendums for other reasons likely have less to work with. Those situations create unacceptable disparities between school districts.
It’s also unfair for school levies to be the only place that citizens can directly express their unhappiness with their overall property tax bill. Counties and cities set part of the property tax, too, yet they are not required to return to the voters time and again for their basic budgets.
The Legislature should consider education funding revisions to narrow the differences between districts. The disparities detract from the state’s constitutional promise to provide equal education opportunity for all. Absent those needed adjustments, though, it’s encouraging that metro-area voters were willing to step up and support young learners.