Responding to what they say is uneven level of funding across school districts, Senate Republicans on Tuesday proposed giving school districts additional funding, about $175 per student in 2016, to use on locally-determined needs. 

The money would come without "any new mandates or strings attached" and allow school districts to determine on their own how to use the additional dollars. It is expected to cost about $455 million over the next two years.

Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, is chief sponsor of the legislation intended to give schools flexibility in how to spend money. Nienow, the lead Republican on the Senate Education Committee, and fellow Republicans criticized recent DFL proposals that would provide universal preschool for all four-year-olds, more school counselors and money to fix aging school buildings, among other aims.

"What we've seen proposed by the Democrats either is nothing or is at best a one percent increase in basic funding to classrooms," Nienow said. "What we're proposing is smarter than that."

The additional funding proposed, under the Senate GOP plan, would rise to $180 per student in 2017 and would be allocated as "basic needs revenue" into a reserve account for districts to use. 

In unveiling their education package, Republicans said it would provide more equity and criticized current "complicated education funding formulas."

Disparities in funding across school districts are based on a variety of factors. The state's basic per-pupil funding is currently $5,831, but some districts get more money for reasons that include declining enrollment and the makeup of their student populations. Gov. Mark Dayton in his recent budget proposal has called for a one percent increase in that basic funding formula in 2016 and an additional one percent in 2017. 

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