When it comes to public education in Minnesota, not every child is equal.
In fact, Minnesota children receive vastly different sums of money towards their public education based on no other factor than where their parents choose to live. Meanwhile, some taxpayers pay disproportionally more taxes than similar taxpayers in other school districts to get the same amount of local revenue into their community schools.
Our state’s educational finance formula defies logic and common sense. In communities like STMA, our children receive disproportionally less and our taxpayers pay disproportionally more. Meanwhile, the current statewide K-12 funding formula produces arbitrary winning and losing school districts creating an uneven playing field quashing local innovation, narrowing the competitive statewide landscape for teaching salaries, and growing the opportunity gap among students across Minnesota.
Every year, the problem gets worse. In fact, in the last decade, the overall disparity between low and high revenue school districts has increased by approximately 67 percent.
Every year, our own STMA students receive thousands of dollars less than demographically similar students in nearby school districts.
And every year, the state legislature acknowledges that there is a problem, and then chooses to avoid fixing it while simultaneously spending more and more taxpayer money on new educational programs and granting new spending requests from “special” school districts who already significantly benefit from the status quo.
It’s politics at its worst- driven not by ideology, but mere expediency. State legislators rely on the fact that the sheer complexity of the issue deflects any public attention on the need for reform. In fact, few individual legislators can explain the current school finance formula. Meanwhile, legislators from both political parties have largely acquiesced to the status quo and seem oddly comfortable with a system that clearly places politics above basic fairness and common sense.
You would probably think our state’s political leaders would seriously consider an issue that significantly affects thousands of children, their families, and hundreds of communities across Minnesota. But alas, communities like STMA, are simply characterized as sore losers.
Last year, when confronted with the school equity concern by individual legislators, Governor Dayton stated, “Equity is in the eyes of the beholder,” and warned state Legislators that “Unless you have a lot of money to facilitate that change in formula, you get winners and losers, and the losers are unhappy. But if they can find a way to do it successfully then more power to them.”
This year, the state’s budget surplus is a record $1.8 Billion. Meanwhile, a record amount of “new” money will be spent on K-12 public education. However, the Governor’s 2015-2016 K-12 education budget still fails to address the school equity issue.
I’m not surprised. It’s an old story. Of course, fixing the school equity problem doesn’t necessarily require more spending. But we now face an interesting dilemma: It seems like we can’t fix the equity problem when we have declining revenues, nor can we fix the school equity problem when we have rapidly increasing revenues. Regardless of the state’s economy, our state leaders continue to act as though fixing the financing of public education is an intractable problem that simply cannot be solved.
Baloney! I think we all know what basic equity is when we see it. When the difference in state revenue per pupil spending between the highest and lowest school district exceeds thousands of dollars per student, per year– our eyes should be wide open.
The truth is Minnesota has fixed problems a lot thornier than a basic math formula. The act of spending hundreds of millions “new” dollars on education without significantly addressing the equity issue is offensive to our community.
The status quo- the way we are funding our schools- continues to be a mess. We need leaders who will stand up for public education and our children. The time to act is now. If our state leaders are unwilling to seriously address the equity issue now in a year of record surpluses, when will they do it? Let’s stop playing politics with the school funding formula and let’s start with the basic premise that all students and taxpayers deserve to be treated fairly.
STMA School Board Chairperson
on behalf of the STMA School Board