With all the news of sequestration filling the news channels, it is easy to forget that there are other things going on in the world of education finance. While the federal government appears to be largely indifferent, Minnesota politicians have actually been looking at ways to help. Governor Mark Dayton’s proposed budget calls for increased education spending and now a bill was introduced in the state legislature looking to improve the state of education financing.
Minnesota State Representative Bob Barrett has introduced the Bridge to Equity in Education bill in the state legislature. The bill recognized the inequitable distribution of educational funds from one district to the next and proposes a new source of financing to schools that are below the state average per pupil revenue. He points out that the current system allocates $13,000 to $14,000 per student in high population districts such as Minneapolis and St. Paul but on $8,500 for students in Chisago county and $8,000 per student in North Branch, the areas that he represents.
While this is an issue that demands attention, it is not clear just how Barrett or his bill plans to finance the initiative. There could be some clues in remarks made by Barrett and state representative Brian Johnson at a recent town hall-style meeting. A bill was signed last year that created a committee to control school trust lands (which was handled by DNR) and this created revenue in other states that took similar action. Governor Dayton’s proposed new sales tax was also discussed during the meeting and some of this revenue could be designated for education.
Funding equity for schools is a big problem. With local funding tied to property taxes and state and federal funding tied to enrollment, schools in rural areas often find themselves underfunded and unable to offer the same level of educational opportunities that larger schools offer. This will become an even bigger issue with sequestration. It is heartening that state politicians recognize and seek to address some of the problems that plague the education system. One can only hope that at least some of these initiatives come to fruition. There is a big difference between calling for change and actually funding change.