What Governor Dayton’s task force on Education Finance Workgroup means to local schools

Senator Sean Nienow
State Senator

I serve on the Senate Education Committee and recently received the recommendations from Governor Dayton’s Education Finance Workgroup. There are components of these recommendations that the residents in District 32 should know about. Today I write to inform you how, if implemented, these recommendations might affect you and your communities.

Essentially Governor Dayton’s workgroup recommends the state take the money that some school districts receive through their education levy and put it in the General Education Fund. The state would then give that same amount of money to all school districts. So, what does this mean for school districts that do not have a levy, such as North Branch?

The state would give the local school boards the authority to impose a levy to obtain the money that would be given to the state and redistributed back to the school district in the General Education Fund.

This is problematic on a number of fronts. First, North Branch has, six times in the last 10 years, said no to the school district’s proposed referendum to increase the levy. The voters have consistently and clearly said through their vote that they do not want their property taxes increased. The Governor’s work group recommendation goes around the voter, disenfranchising their vote, and gives the authority directly to the school board to impose this increase in your property tax even though they were never elected with that authority.

The school districts do not have authority to raise your taxes and what’s more, when you voted for your local school board member you were not given the opportunity to ask them how they would stand on raising your taxes. You, as a voter and resident of the community had no opportunity to base your vote on this information. These recommendations take the authority for imposing taxes out of the hands of the legislators who have to answer to the people for how they would handle that authority and puts it in the hands of school board officials who do not.

Furthermore, on pages 9-10 of the Workforce Recommendations it states that if the school board chose to levy less that the stated amount, the state could reduce education aid payments by a dollar for dollar amount. Would this pressure the school boards to impose the full levy out of fear that their education funding could be cut? It almost certainly would.

Just how much money are we talking about here? The financial impact summary released by the Workgroup shows that North Branch would receive a 13.1 percent increase in education property tax; Cambridge would see an 8.4 percent increase in education property tax; Chisago Lakes and Rush City would each see about 2.5 percent increase and Braham and Princeton would stay about the same. I cannot support the state reaching farther into your household budget and taking more of your money while at the same disenfranchising your vote.

Next I’d like to address equity in education funding. Equity in funding, or better described as the inequity in education finding is important and those who have followed my work on education at the legislature know that I have advocated closing the gap between the disproportionately high levels of funding going to Metro schools compared to what our local schools here in Isanti and Chisago counties receive.

In 2011, Minneapolis Schools received approximately $14,000 per pupil while North Branch received about $8,700 and Chisago Lakes received about $8,500. Cambridge Isanti Schools received $7,600 and Braham Schools received $8,500. Minneapolis Public Schools receive over $5,000 more than our schools, per child yet between 2007 and 2011 less than half of Minneapolis public high school students graduated in four years.

In addition to that, 73 percent of 11th grade students in Minneapolis Public Schools did not meet the Math Standards in 2012. Clearly this is not due to a lack of funding. I know Governor Dayton talks about a better Minnesota, but there is a better way for Minnesota. Our educational system, receiving 40 percent of our state’s budget, is structurally flawed and rather than using sleight of hand funding tricks that take away your right to vote, we should build a structurally sound system that results in highly educated students.

Funding education is a high priority in Minnesota. It should be done responsibly and not on the backs of homeowners and small businesses and certainly not by going around their right to vote on local education levies.

You can count on me to continue to bring reasonable, responsible and compassionate solutions to the running of the great state of Minnesota and to stand for your rights. I welcome your feedback and ideas. You can contact me by email or phone at 651-296-5419 or Sen.Sean.Nienow@senate.mn.

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