Regardless of shutdown, state funds should continue going to public schools

Joe Nathan
Contributing Writer

Regardless of the politics, state funds should keep going to schools.

That’s my conclusion after interviewing about 20 superintendents and principals, Gen Olson, chair of the Minnesota Senate Education Committee (and a Republican) and Charlene Briner, a spokesperson for the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE).

A shutdown may delay in payments to schools. Cambridge-Isanti Schools Superintendent Bruce Novak, told me that the district anticipates receiving approximately $705,000 on July 15.

Michelle Vargas, Chief Financial Officer of Anoka-Hennepin ISD #11, the state’s largest district, reported that the district anticipates a payment of $13.6 million on July 15. Statewide, Briner of MDE estimated that school districts normally would be paid about $296 million.

What’s the impact of a delay in payments?

Novak explained, “Cambridge-Isanti has worked hard over the past five to six years to maintain a fund balance to address unforeseen issues, (such as state aid payment shifts and a possible shut down with no revenue). Having said that, we wouldn’t have an immediate impact because we have enough cash on hand (savings if you will) to carry us for approximately six weeks. We have planned for aid anticipation borrowing (our contingency plan) to help carry us through a few more months if it becomes necessary. The problem with short term borrowing is the high interest rate you have to pay—and in the end this comes out of the general education fund or directly out of classroom needs, instruction, materials, etc.

Senator Gen Olson, chair of the Senate Education Committee (and a Republican) told me that “based on advice from our staff, I believe the governor and MDE already have the authority to make general fund payments to schools.” She says that the administration would have to designate people as “essential” to actually send the checks to schools. But she hopes that a shutdown can be avoided.

Briner wrote, “State aid payments to schools have not been deemed a “priority 1 or 2 critical service” or those which effect life or safety. Ultimately, it is up to the Court to make the final determination on critical services.”

Briner and Olson agree that they want an agreement, not a shutdown. The principles are deeply felt and intense. But I hope the courts conclude that regardless of the debate, state payments to schools should continue.

Novak pointed out, “Our children are not Democrats or Republicans, they are our future. We as adult leaders and elected officials have a responsibility to take care of them and in the end take care of our society and country. It is just disappointing that partisan politics cannot be put aside and the issue of the greater good for our children, state and country cannot become the focus.”

Educators are trying to do their best for youngsters. They deserve the best we can do for them, which I think means, hire people and send out the money that schools already have been promised.

Joe Nathan, a former public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change at Macalester College. He welcomes reactions, jnathan@macalester.edu

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