School districts would get an across-the-board funding increase of $175 per student next year under a proposal by Senate Republicans.
Responding to what they say is an uneven level of funding across school districts, Senate Republicans say that districts should get the extra money to spend on locally determined needs, whether it’s technology, building upgrades or educational programming. The money would be separate from the existing per-pupil funding formula that Republicans say is overly complex and unfair to rural districts.
While in previous years Republicans typically have insisted that new money be accompanied by reforms, greater accountability and measureable outcomes, this money would come without “any new mandates or strings attached.” It would cost about $455 million over the next two years — about half of the state’s entire projected budget surplus.
Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, the bill’s chief sponsor, said the money is intended to give schools greater flexibility and would be apportioned strictly by the number of students. He and other Senate Republicans criticized recent DFL proposals that would provide universal preschool for all 4-year-olds, additional high school counselors and funding to fix aging school buildings, among other aims.
“What we’ve seen proposed by the Democrats either is nothing or is at best a 1 percent increase in basic funding to classrooms,” Nienow said. “What we’re proposing is smarter than that.”
Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, and chair of the Senate E-12 Education Committee, questioned the Republican proposal and said it would divide more than it would help. The funding formulas are designed to send additional money to districts with higher needs, he said. “We strongly feel that one’s education shouldn’t be based on their ZIP code in terms of the funding for a district where everybody is treated the same,” Wiger said, “but on the needs of that district.”
Differences in state funding for districts are based on various factors. The state’s basic per-pupil funding is $5,831, but some districts get more 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 1 percent increase in that basic funding formula in 2016 and another 1 percent in 2017.
The bill, which must get through a DFL-controlled Senate, has no DFL sponsors and no companion bill in the GOP-led House.