Superintendents see mixed results for education funding

The Rockford and St. Michael-Albertville superintendents are reporting mixed education results after the end of the recent legislative session.
According to the Association of Metropolitan School Districts (AMSD), which Rockford is a member, the E-12 Education Bill approved during the special session “contains some important investments and policy changes, including a two percent per year increase in the basic formula, for the 2018-19 biennium.”
Noteworthy provisions contained in the bill include:
• An increase in the basic formula of 2% per year.
• $50 million for the creation of a new School Readiness Plus Program for the 2018-19 biennium. Funding can be used for voluntary prekindergarten or school readiness programming.
• An increase of $20.65 million in the 2018-19 biennium for Pathway I Early Learning Scholarships. Pathway II scholarships are frozen at the FY 2017 level.
• $4.9 million for mental health grants to intermediate school districts and cooperatives.
• Investments to address the teacher shortage and increase the number of teachers of color.
• Reform of the teacher licensing governance system and the creation of a tiered licensure frame-work.
• School districts and the exclusive representative of the teachers are required to negotiate an unrequested leave of absence plan removing the statutory requirement that seniority be the determining factor.
According to AMSD, “Disappointingly, some important issues were not addressed by the 2017 Legislature,” including:
• Special Education — No new investments in special education were included in the E-12 Education Bill, which means the cross-subsidy will continue to grow.
• Equalization — The Omnibus Tax Bill did not include investments in operating referendum equalization or debt service equalization to address taxpayer and education funding inequities.
• Teachers Retirement Fund — Proposed legislation to stabilize the Teacher’s Retirement Fund was not approved.

While there were some positive outcomes from the 2017 session, most AMSD member school districts will face budget challenges over the next two years.
A budget survey conducted in May showed that AMSD members face a cumulative budget shortfall of over $91 million for the 2017-18 school year under a 2% formula increase.
“The budget challenges are not surprising given that the basic formula has lost considerable ground to inflation since 2003 and the special education cross-subsidy continues to grow,” AMSD said.

In Rockford, Supt. Paul Durand said he “hoped and prayed” for solid financial support for k-12 education.
He continued, “ We do appreciate the 2% + 2% added on the per pupil funding formula but realistically we know that it does not keep up with inflation nor will it stop future cuts or a need for local referendums in our school districts.”
Durand said the Special Education cross-subsidy increases are most concerning to educators across Minnesota.
“Also, the failure to act on Teacher Retirement Associatio issues and any significant progress on property tax relief is very disappointing
He did point out that Agricultural credit was passed to help area farmers, but Debt Service Equalization and/or Referendum/Levy fairness as additional property tax relief was not a part of the final legislation enacted.
“The Rockford Area Schools have made budget cuts and been forced to over years to deplete financial reserves, so without real financial help during this legislative session our students, families and communities will be hurt.”
Durand was thankful to area legislators Rep. Jerry Hertaus, Rep. Joe McDonald, Sen. Dave Osmek and Sen. Bruce Anderson “for fighting to bring back results for our local constituents who live in the Rockford Area Schools. But, I am honestly disappointed with such a large MN budget surplus that stronger education funding wasn’t a higher priority. I predict eventually this path of lean k-12 spending support and unequitable funding formulas will negatively impact our future workforce in Minnesota.”

Although not a member of the ASMD, St. Michael-Albertville is a member of the Schools for Equity in Education (SEE), and Supt. Ann-Marie Foucault said she was recently at a SEE meeting to review the legislative session.
“For STMA, our largest gain from the recent legislative session was a 2%/2% increase to the basic formula for the biennium,” Foucault said. “This is $121 per pupil in 2017-18 and $124 per pupil in 2018-19. This will allow us to maintain programs and class sizes.”
She said legislators approved a 40% agricultural bond credit for voter-approved building bonds to provide tax relief for owners of agricultural land. STMA ag land owners are estimated to save $101,140 for taxes payable 2018.
“This is not additional dollars for our school district but will provide relief for taxpayers with ag land,” Foucault said.
STMA’s legislative platform included special education funding but there were not any dollars set aside this legislative session. In fiscal year 2015, STMA diverted $3.2 million or $504 per pupil of funding meant for regular education classroom instruction to cover under-funded, state mandated special education programming.
“We had hoped to reduce the cross subsidy by 25% per biennium, which would reallocate $800,000 to STMA regular education classroom instruction,” Foucault said.
While STMA strongly advocated for equity in school funding and made some progress, Foucault said there were not any no new dollars given to reduce the disparity in school funding between school districts.
“I testified on behalf of SF189 to the Senate E-12 Finance Committee in February,” she said. “This bill would have given more aid to school districts in the bottom 20th percentile of per pupil revenue, which includes STMA. We will continue to advocate for equity in school funding.”
She said the school district is happy that legislators did put some money towards concurrent enrollment. Legislators placed $750,000 in teacher training grants to expand eligibility to high school teachers who want to get the courses required to teach college level courses.
“The grant dollars will give teachers some options for affordable, accessible, and time-sensitive options to earn the credentials necessary to continue to teach concurrent enrollment courses to high school students,” Foucault said.
She also thanked Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer and Rep. Eric Lucero “for their steadfast advocacy for STMA students.”