This election season the St. Michael-Albertville School Board is asking for your help.
We need you to ask anyone who is running for state office: Why does the state legislature year after year refuse to correct the state funding formula that creates vast differences in state school funding per pupil between public school districts and what are you going to do about it?
Last year, the STMA school district was 335 out of 335 public school districts in Minnesota in the amount of state general education funding it receives per pupil. That is correct- we were last. In fact, some school districts, just a few miles down the road, with demographics very similar to our own, receive thousands of dollars more in state revenue per pupil each year.
Why? Quite simply, it’s politics.
Minnesota spends roughly $14 billon bi-annually on public education, or approximately 50% of the state budget. Once the legislature determines the total aggregate amount it is going to spend, public education dollars are then distributed according to a complicated funding formula that provides a base amount of dollars per pupil across the state and additional dollars to certain school districts who qualify for categorical aid – aid restricted to districts that meet identified criteria.
The STMA district, through no fault of its own, simply does not qualify for much categorical aid. Granted, some categorical aid is tied to student need- some districts face unique challenges very different than STMA- but the vast majority of categorical aid is arbitrary and all too often aimed at simply benefiting districts with greater political clout in St. Paul.
It’s time for change.
Our kids now receive less educational opportunity than kids in nearby districts based on no other factor than mere geography. Our constituents pay a proportional share of state taxes, but watch their tax dollars disproportionally benefit other school districts.
You can’t build a 21st century economy while leaving large numbers of kids in the state behind. You can’t create innovation, competiveness, or local accountability in public education when half of the state’s school districts have one hand tied behind their back.
Regardless of party, Minnesota should be unified in the basic value that public education funding should not be a political game of winners and losers.
So we are asking for your help? We need state political leaders who are willing to confront this issue. We need your help because state leaders tell us that when they run for election no one ever talks about this issue so it can’t be that important. Ask questions about school funding equity. Ask the question in any forum, of any state candidate, regardless of party. Listen closely. And demand a real commitment to change this issue next session.
This is really about political will. It’s about priorities. We cannot be satisfied with incremental steps that leave our kids further and further behind. We have tackled enormously contentious political issues far thornier and more difficult than a school funding formula. Bottom line: If a candidate’s top three priorities do not include tackling the school funding equity issue next session, then little will likely happen.
So this election season ask the candidates whether they are committed to ensuring that all Minnesota students receive a high quality education and all Minnesota taxpayers are treated fairly. STMA students deserve the same educational opportunities as students in other schools districts. A few miles of pavement should not affect a student’s future. Our kids deserve better. Our taxpayers deserve better. And Minnesota deserves better.
Letter submitted by board chair Douglas Birk on behalf of the District 882 Board of Education