Minnesota is fortunate to have world-class schools and educators dedicated to teaching the next generation. It’s why 41 percent of our state’s general-fund budget, or approximately $18.7 billion over this biennium, is allocated to our students and schools. It’s also why, as chair of the House Education Finance Committee, I have focused not only on increasing funding for education but on prioritizing this effort via the per pupil formula, giving our school districts more local control to spend additional funding as they see fit while ensuring that those dollars reach every classroom and every pupil.
Since Republicans took control of the House in 2015, education funding has seen a net increase of $2.8 billion, or $1,173 per student. Per pupil funding has increased by 12 percent relative to inflation since fiscal year 2007.
Investing in education is a priority we share as Minnesotans, and that’s why our work has been focused heavily not only on increasing education investments but also on reforming education funding to ensure accountability of those dollars, so that they benefit every student and every school from Ely to Eden Prairie.
The recent article “Budget gaps challenge state’s school districts” (Sept. 25) reported that several school districts are facing budget shortfalls this year due to a number of ongoing challenges, including declining enrollment and growing costs for special education and English-language learners. The governor shared that helping those school districts was his top priority this year, and House Republicans agreed — advancing compromise legislation to help our schools fill those budgetary shortfalls, making a total of $225 million available to provide districts with additional funding and flexibility.
Education funding is a critical component of providing every child with a well-rounded education, and it’s why we championed meaningful investments in education. But I think Minnesota parents, teachers and citizens agree that our work to close the achievement gap and improve outcomes for all children will take student-centered reforms in addition to more funding.
Over the past two years, House Republicans advanced legislation to help keep the best teachers in the classroom, repealing the outdated “last in, first out” policy in state statute, overhauling our broken teacher licensure system and strengthening alternative teacher preparation programs. We championed a number of measures to help schools make facility security upgrades, hire school resource officers and more student counselors, provide suicide-prevention training for teachers and address student mental health needs.
I also authored a key initiative to close loopholes and clarify state law regarding background checks for all school employees, helping to keep dangerous felons and sexual predators away from our students and out of the classroom. Perhaps most notably, with the education initiatives we passed and sent to the governor this session, we provided resources and flexibility, rather than mandates, so our local school districts could make the decisions that work best for their students and communities.
It is an absolute privilege to work for our students, teachers and schools and to advocate for them at the State Capitol. I know that education will continue to be a top priority for lawmakers, because prioritizing our children’s future is a smart investment.
Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, is a member of the Minnesota House.