As the association that represents school boards across the state, the Minnesota School Boards Association would like to counter the meager amount of funding the Star Tribune’s Editorial Board would put on the general funding formula for education (“How we’d craft the state budget,” April 12).
With 333 very different school districts across the state, the best way to fund schools is to invest money in the general funding formula. It gives districts flexibility to use funds for the highest priority needs for students.
A 1 percent increase doesn’t even cover inflation. It will result in many schools laying off teachers, increasing class sizes, cutting programs for students. It will set students back. A simple call to a superintendent or a school board member should have been enough to find out that 1 percent won’t cut it.
Schools are mandated to do much with the funding received from the state. Attacking achievement gaps, raising student performance, integrating technology into learning and making sure each child is prepared for a successful future are things you can’t get on the cheap. You need to invest in the future and be consistent with a 3 percent increase each year. That is how we move education forward.
Even the Star Tribune’s editorial admits that with only a 1 percent increase, districts will be forced to go out for operating levies to avoid cuts to student curriculum and programs. This budget the Star Tribune envisions simply shifts the burden of a 3 percent increase to the property taxpayers. It forces schools to again spend time planning and preparing for operating levy votes, instead of concentrating on student achievement.
Both the Star Tribune plan and the House plan are woefully inadequate for plans that want to decrease the achievement gap and increase student success. We like Gov. Mark Dayton’s $694 million target for funding education — as long as the 3 percent on the general formula is funded first. Dayton’s method of tying an increase into preschool doesn’t give districts much flexibility. Some districts are in different stages of preparation for universal preschool. Some may have space; others may need a new building to accommodate the additional students.
By putting the money on the general funding formula, districts have the ability to adapt funds for where their students really need help. Giving districts the security of adequate, stable and equitable funding for students is the best way to ensure student success. It is the best investment with the largest payoff.
Kirk Schneidawind is executive director of the Minnesota School Boards Association.