COMMENTARY: Greater Minnesota schools need adequate state funding
In Park Rapids Area Schools, our mission is to prepare today's learners for tomorrow's challenges. But we cannot do it alone. We rely heavily on state funding.
We thank our elected state officials, Rep. Steve Green and Sen. Paul Utke, for the increases in education funding in the previous biennium, but also understand the time is now to fix education funding going into the future. Schools like Park Rapids need Gov. Tim Walz and the Minnesota Legislature this session to fulfill the state's 2003 promise to adequately fund public schools with part of the $1.54 billion state surplus.
Funding education is a constitutional duty of the Governor and the Legislature. State funding has not kept up with inflation since 2003. That stacks up to nearly $600 per pupil in Park Rapids Area Schools, according to the Minnesota Department of Education. This underfunding prevents schools from effectively planning and executing on our community's vision for education.
Education is underfunded
This $600 gap per pupil is especially troublesome for Greater Minnesota school districts. Our districts are more dependent on the basic formula than metro area districts. Those schools have greater access to local operating referendum revenue due to higher household incomes and property wealth.
Local voters across the state have had to fill the gap for basic education services. In our community, local voters have supported Park Rapids Area Schools in the past by passing an operating referendum as well as bonding projects. We appreciate that support, but also recognize that is not the case in every school district in our state.
"Communities should not be reliant entirely on local property taxes to fund schools — that's a recipe for racial and geographic disparities," Walz said in his platform. Additionally, Walz, to a packed ballroom of school board members at the Minnesota School Boards Convention on Jan. 17 said, "Our goal is to make referendums rare or extinct."
During his inaugural address, Walz advocated for "One Minnesota Vision" where a child's education is not determined by his or her zip code. In his platform, Walz said his administration will "fully and equitably fund our schools and reject the budgetary gimmicks we've used in the past because all kids should have access to a high-quality education regardless of their zip code." Together with Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, he said they "will ensure funding for our schools that is not only stable, but equitable."
In his December press conference on his budget plans, he called on Minnesota lawmakers to have an honest conversation about the impact of inflation. We agree.
Meeting the needs of students requires 3 percent on the formula this biennium and predictable, forecasted increases above inflation into the future. This would provide predictable budgeting and enable Park Rapids Area Schools to plan for anticipated student growth and enhancements of programming serving all our students.
Using the state's general fund is the most equitable, stable and responsible way to have local communities address the needs of their students.
Join us in calling on Walz and the Legislature this session to step forward for students and fulfill the state's constitutional requirement to adequately fund education. Our students — and their future — depend on it.