ROSEMOUNT, Minn. – Stable funding for E-12 education remains the top priority for District 196 in the 2018 session of the Minnesota Legislature that begins Feb. 20. The School Board unanimously approved the district’s 2018 legislative priorities Feb. 12.
The priorities were developed by citizen and staff members of the district’s Legislative Advisory Council (LAC), with input from members of the Budget Advisory Council (BAC). Members of the LAC, BAC and School Board will share the district’s priorities with local legislators who represent residents of District 196 and with the chairs of the education committees in the Senate and House of Representatives.
The district’s priorities document thanks the Legislature and Governor Dayton for providing needed investment in E-12 education during the 2017 budget-setting session. Funding approved through fiscal year 2019 make it five years in a row of 2 percent increases to the general education formula, the largest single source of revenue Minnesota school districts receive. “These consistent, at least inflationary increases are necessary to avoid the detrimental staffing and program cuts that resulted from state funding increases that averaged less than 1 percent per year in the first half of this decade,” the document reads.
Although 2018 is not a budget-setting session, the district believes state leaders should continue discussion toward establishing stable funding solutions that support a “general and uniform system of public schools,” as required of the Legislature in Article 13, Section 1 of the Minnesota Constitution. The following five priorities focus on that goal.
- Index the general education formula to inflation
- From 2003 to 2018, the gap between actual increases to the general education formula and the inflation-adjusted amount is $579 per pupil. If general education funding had just kept pace with inflation during these years, school districts could have avoided many of the detrimental budget cuts and local levy referendums that were needed to make up the difference. The district asks the Legislature to fully fund this gap and to index future general education formula increases to the annual rate of inflation.
- Increase special education funding
- The lack of adequate special education funding from the state and federal governments continues to be an issue for all Minnesota school districts. The difference between the special education funding District 196 will receive this year and the actual cost of providing these services – also known as the “special education cross-subsidy” – is $27 million this year. Statewide, the special education cross-subsidy will top $700 million this year.
- Increase equalization aid to equalize the local tax burden
- Equalization aid is intended to equalize the impact of school taxes for homeowners in districts with differing levels of commercial/industrial property wealth. Districts with less commercial/industrial property wealth, like District 196, receive equalization aid. However, the factors used to calculate equalization aid have not kept pace with growth in overall property values over time and, as a result, no longer provide the intended level of equalization or taxpayer fairness. For example, District 196 has a current operating levy of $1,140 per pupil that was approved by district voters in 2013. Taxes to support this levy for the owner of a $250,000 home in District 196 are $290 more per year than the owner of a $250,000 home in a west metro district with high commercial/industrial property wealth.
- Allow local control to renew existing operating levies
- Current Minnesota law limits operating levies to no more than 10 years in length. After 10 years, in order to continue to receive the same amount of funding that was previously approved by voters, school districts are required to conduct another referendum election, even though it would not result in a tax increase. There have been 182 levy renewal referendums in Minnesota since 2011 and 180 of them – 99 percent – have been approved. Given the cost and time required to conduct a referendum election and the high percentage of approvals for levy renewals, the district asks the Legislature to give locally elected School Board members authority to renew levies that were previously approved by local voters and do not represent a tax increase.
- Stabilize the Teachers Retirement Association Fund
- The Minnesota Teachers Retirement Association (TRA) Fund had an unfunded liability of $9 billion in fiscal year 2017 and District 196’s share of this liability is $279 million. The district asks the Legislature to stabilize the fund by adjusting benefits, increasing the employee and employer contributions, and funding the increase in the employer contribution.