On Tuesday, Feb. 5, a group of parents and students from the Rockford Area Schools traveled to the Minnesota State Capitol to meet with area legislators. Superintendent Paul Durand joined the group. Deb Griffiths from Schools for Equity in Education (SEE) hosted the day, arming the delegation with buttons, posters and education funding details. SEE is an association of 62 Minnesota School Districts that represents nearly 250,000 students including those from the Rockford Area Schools. SEE works to advocate for equity and adequacy in K-12 education funding and policy.
The parents asked legislators to fund schools fairly for all students no matter the zip code. With the heavy reliance on school levies to make up for inadequate state funding, the emphasis was on making school levies more affordable in low property wealth districts. The cost to the taxpayer for a levy dollar is based on the individual property wealth of the district. Without significant commercial and industrial development to broaden the tax base, taxpayers in low property wealth districts like Rockford pay over twice as much than their peers in high property wealth districts for identical revenue for their schools. For example, the state allows school districts to have school levies up to $1,633 per pupil. The annual cost to a taxpayer per $100,000 of property value in a property wealthy neighboring school district for this levy is $151. The cost escalates to $352 dollars for residents in Rockford, Greenfield and Corcoran.
Because of the disparities in the cost of a levy dollar, districts like District #883 have much less school levy dollars to support the needs of their students. The widening educational opportunity gap puts students in districts like Rockford, Delano, St. Michael-Albertville, Maple Lake, Elk River, Annandale , Anoka-Hennepin, Waconia, Monticello, Howard Lake – Waverly – Winsted and Buffalo at a distinct disadvantage, as they will compete for college placement and jobs with all students across the state. The parents urged the legislators to support several bills that would lower the school levy cost for taxpayers in SEE school districts. As one parent said, “We just want a level playing field.”
The parents also asked legislators to balance paying back the school shift with providing new funding for schools. Paying off the shift is like paying off a credit card,these dollars lower the debt but are not available to spend. State dollars for k-12 education are finite. If all funding is used to pay back the shift at the exclusion of new funding for schools, districts will have to make cuts to current programming to cover rising costs due to inflation.
The Rockford group met with area Representatives Jerry Hertaus and Jeff Howe, and Senators David Osmek and Bruce Anderson. Representative Paul Marquart, the Chair of the House Education Finance Committee,was also able to meet with the group briefly.