A recent report by Education Minnesota laid out teachers’ views of what it would take to fully fund public education. Gov. Tim Walz has put forward a school budget proposal that would provide significantly more funding for the next two years than provided in past years.

The data from the Education Minnesota analysis and the governor’s proposal define an economic reality and an opportunity to improve education in Minnesota.

The Education Minnesota analysis calls for fully funding government mandates, including the shortfalls in special education, general funding that covers inflation each year plus 2 percent for costs above inflation, reducing class size, and adding support personnel. A $4 billion increase over two years is a tall order.

The governor’s proposed education budget increase totals $733 million over the next two years and includes $523 million more for the per-pupil funding formula (3 percent increase the first year and 2 percent increase the second), $77 million to offset rising special-education costs, $59 million for pre-school, $26 million for school safety and $8 million for full-service community schools. While the Walz budget is far short of the $4 billion outlined by the teachers’ union, it is meeting with resistance at a time when a number of school districts are facing general fund budget cuts.

Gov. Walz faces the annual educational funding challenge that confronted all previous governors: Is the proposal less than needed or more than the state can spend? And what is the state’s long-term plan for how to direct resources and gather the support of citizens?

The editorial board believes it is time to look for sustainable long-term funding solutions and find ways to integrate the technology-based information revolution into the learning process. There is also the need to maintain an open discussion of change for alternative delivery models for learning.

Minnesota faces very clear, dependent and yet conflicting issues:

1. Funding our current structure and methods to educate children will continue to require greater revenues than currently appropriated.

2. Legislative and gubernatorial underfunding of the actual costs experienced by Minnesota schools has increased the reliance on voter-approved property tax increases. Reliance on property taxes to support local schools has a limit and such funding results in unequal funding for students throughout the state. Districts with low property values can’t match the ability of property-rich districts to easily pass operating tax levies.

3. If we want to keep our current educational system in place, the state needs to fund that system.

4. If the state elects not to fund the current system, the system has to change.

So where is the bright spot in all of this? Now is the time to formally recognize and define the problem and start to address possible choices.

Recognition of what resources are needed today to fully fund public education is a must. We think the next step is for the Legislature with the leadership of Gov. Walz, to develop a comparable definition of “fully funded schools,” and accompany that “full funding model” with immediate and long-term revenue sources that will provide full funding over a 10-year term.

The cynic in us says that political differences will never allow for a comprehensive definition of what children need for a fully funded education, much less a long-term funding structure to meet those needs. Reality says we are already defining “full funding” by our annual and biennial distribution of revenue without speaking to its adequacy and impact on students.

If we want the current system of educating children to succeed we must fund that system. If we can’t, or won’t do so at the annual levels of expense, change the system. Trying to have it both ways penalizes students and burdens property taxpayers

– An opinion of the Adams Publishing – ECM Editorial Board. Reactions welcome, send to: editorial.board@ecm-inc.com.

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